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The "Chip Smith" Charge

Scales of Justice"Everything old is new again." We've all heard this phrase before, and this is certainly the case with the Chip Smith charge. The charge derives from State v. Smith, 49 Conn. 376 (1881). James "Chip" Smith was a 21-year-old who was drinking, firing off his gun and causing a general disturbance of the peace one afternoon in December of 1880. His behavior forced his father out into the street and to the home of Daniel J. Hayes, the chief of police for the borough of Ansonia. The elder Mr. Smith begged Mr. Hayes to come and arrest his son. Mr. Hayes went in search of Chip, found him in a downtown street and tried to arrest him. A struggle ensued, and Chip shot Hayes in the abdomen. Hayes later died of his injuries. James "Chip" Smith was tried for and convicted of Hayes' murder. In an opinion reviewing Smith's conviction, the Connecticut Supreme Court set forth language concerning the duty of jurors when deliberating. This language became known as the Chip Smith charge, and trial courts repeatedly gave the charge to jurors when they reported that they were deadlocked.

Over the years, the Chip Smith charge became an established part of Scales of JusticeConnecticut jurisprudence. However, the instruction was often challenged as being coercive and implying that a juror in the minority should "give in" to the majority for the sake of unanimity. Recently, in State v. O'Neil, 261 Conn. 49 (2002), the instruction was challenged once again, and our old Chip Smith charge was given a new dressing.

In State v. O'Neil, the defendant was on trial for murder. After some deliberation, the jurors reported to the court that they were unable to agree. The trial court delivered a Chip Smith instruction to the deadlocked jury. Later that same day, the jury returned a guilty verdict. On appeal, the defendant argued that the Chip Smith charge had coerced the jury into reaching a verdict. In its decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld O'Neil's conviction and the use of the Chip Smith charge. However, the Supreme Court set forth a modified version of the charge to be used by trial courts in future cases. Henceforth, judges must remind jurors that they should vote their consciences and not "acquiesce in the conclusion of their fellow jurors merely for the sake of arriving at a unanimous verdict." The version of the Chip Smith charge adopted for use today strikes a balance between encouraging a unanimous verdict and protecting a defendant's right to a fair trial.

For further reading see:

State v Smith, 49 Conn. 376 (1881); State v O'Neil, 261 Conn. 49 (2002). Borden & Orland. 5 Connecticut Practice Series: Criminal Jury Instructions 4.4 3rd ed. West, 2001. Yules. 6 Connecticut Practice Series: Trial Practice 11.18 2nd ed. West, 2000. Wright & Ankerman. 1 Connecticut Jury Instructions (Civil) 18(1) 4th ed. Atlantic, 1993.

Doses of Connecticut Legal History