Tapping the Scales of Justice - A Dose of Connecticut Legal History

The "Chip Smith" Charge

The Chip Smith charge derives from State v. Smith, 49 Conn. 376 (1881). James "Chip" Smith was a 21-year-old who was drinking, firing his gun, and causing a general disturbance of the peace on December 23rd, 1880. Smith's father went to the home of Daniel J. Hayes, the Chief of Police for the city of Ansonia, and asked him to arrest his son. Chief Hayes searched for Smith, and found him in a downtown street. A struggle ensued, and Smith shot Hayes in the abdomen. Hayes lived for some time after being shot, and he locked up his killer himself before succumbing to his injuries. James "Chip" Smith was convicted of Hayes' murder.Scales of Justice

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 instruction to jurors when they reported that they were deadlocked.

Over the years, the Chip Smith charge became an established part of Connecticut 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. 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 the Chip Smith charge improperly pressured minority view jurors to abandon their position in favor of the position of the majority view jurors, unfairly increasing the likelihood that the defendant would be convicted.

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.

Sources of Information:
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;
Mayko, Michael P. Ansonia renames Downtown Street after its Murdered First Police Chief, CTPost, May 15, 2018.

Doses of Connecticut Legal History