Don't anticipate a conviction or an acquittal based on the length of jury deliberations

Don't anticipate a conviction or an acquittal based on the length of jury deliberations
Ghislaine Maxwell, left, and Elizabeth Holmes, right, each endured lengthy jury deliberations in their federal criminal trials in December.Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Jurors in the Ghislaine Maxwell and Elizabeth Holmes trials each took at least five days to deliberate.
  • Experts told Insider that lengthy jury deliberations do not always mean the defendant will be acquitted.

Two high-profile women on opposite sides of the country waited for more than a week amid the holiday season for separate federal juries to decide their fates. But as the suspense increased, experts cautioned against reading too deeply into the lengthy deliberations.

Ghislaine Maxwell, the former associate of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, faced six complex federal charges in New York related to trafficking minors and sexually abusing them. Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced Theranos founder, is charged in federal court in California with nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

There's a common misconception that quick jury deliberations usually result in a conviction, while lengthy ones mean acquittals. Indeed, Maxwell and her defense attorneys reportedly seemed upbeat in recent days, perhaps anticipating an acquittal. But when the jury returned its verdict on Wednesday evening, it convicted her on five of six counts.

Valerie Hans, a law professor at Cornell University who has studied juries, cautioned against assuming that multiple days of deliberations always results in an acquittal. The Maxwell and Holmes trials, in particular, warranted the jurors' careful consideration, Hans said.

"Both trials are pretty complicated, and they are long," Hans said, noting that Maxwell's trial took up the entire month of December, while Holmes' trial began in early September. "The average jury trial just lasts a couple of days. So we are looking at very unusual cases."


Furthermore, days-long deliberations have resulted in both acquittals and convictions in past high-profile trials. For instance, a jury in 2012 convicted Jerry Sandusky after deliberating for 21 hours in his child sex abuse trial, while a jury in 2005 acquitted Michael Jackson of child molestation after 32 hours of deliberating.

Two different juries in 2015 and 2017 each took 36 hours to deliberate separate murder charges against the football player Aaron Hernandez. The first jury convicted him, while the second jury acquitted.

Moira Penza, a former federal prosecutor, told Insider she was impressed with the care the Maxwell jurors took in reaching their verdict. The jurors had submitted several requests over the last week to review transcripts of witness testimony.

"I do think that the jurors' notes — the information that they've requested — shows that they are being very methodical," Penza said. "Typically defendants are hoping for a verdict around Christmastime, thinking that jurors will be more generous at Christmas."

Hans said juries typically opt for either a verdict-driven approach, where each juror announces their position at the beginning and discusses the evidence supporting their views, or an evidence-driven approach, where they don't immediately discuss verdicts and instead discuss evidence more broadly. Verdict-driven approaches are more likely to result in hung juries, according to Han.


The Holmes jury stretched into its sixth day of deliberations on Wednesday with no end in sight. So far jurors have submitted two notes to the judge: one asking if they could take the jury instructions home with them, and another asking to replay a 2013 recording of Holmes discussing Theranos investors.

Hans said it's impossible to know what took place in the jury room for Maxwell's and Holmes' trials, but the notes jurors sent to the judge indicated a more evidence-driven approach.

"One of the interesting things in both cases is that [jurors] have asked for additional materials," Hans said.