The play is set in a New York City Court of Law jury room in 1957. The play opens to the empty jury room, and the Judge’s voice is heard, giving a set of final instructions to the jurors. We learn that this is a murder case and that, if found guilty, the mandatory sentence for the accused is the death penalty. After these instructions, the jurors enter.
The men file in and decide to take a short break before deliberating. They complain that the room is hot and without air-conditioning; even the fan doesn’t work. All the jurors presume the obvious guilt of the defendant, whom we learn has been accused of killing his father. Eventually, the twelve sit down and a vote is taken. All of the jurors vote “guilty,” except for the 8th Juror, who votes “not guilty,” which, due to the requirement of a unanimous jury, forces them to discuss the case.
The jurors react violently against this dissenting vote. Ultimately, they decide to go around the table, explaining why they believe the boy to be guilty, in hopes of convincing 8th Juror.
Through this discussion we learn the following facts about the case: an old man living beneath the boy and his father testified that he heard upstairs a fight, the boy shouting, “I’m gonna kill you,” a body hitting the ground, and then he saw the boy running down the stairs. The boy claimed he had been at the movies while his father was murdered, but couldn’t remember the name of the movies or who was in them. A woman living across the street testified that she saw the boy kill his father through the windows of a passing elevated train. The boy had, that night, had an argument with his father, which resulted in the boy’s father hitting him twice. Finally, the boy has an extensive list of prior offenses, including trying to slash another teenager with a knife.
There is a strong rallying against the defendant. 3rd Juror compares him to his own son, with whom he was estranged, and 10th Juror reveals strong racist tendencies against the defendant.
When a discussion about the murder weapon, which was identified as the knife purchased by the defendant, a “one-of-a-kind” knife, begins, 8th Juror surprises the others by presenting an identical knife he had purchased in a pawn shop two blocks from where the boy lived a few nights prior, shattering the claim that the knife was so unique and identifiable.
8th Juror makes a proposition that the other eleven of them could vote, and if all of them voted “not guilty,” he would not stand alone and would go along with their guilty verdict. They agree to this and vote by secret ballot. The vote is 10 “guilty” votes and 1 “not guilty” vote, and so the deliberation continues.
Immediately, the jurors turn on 5th Juror, accusing him of having changed his vote out of sympathy for the boy. 9th Juror stands and admits to having changed his vote because he’d like to hear the arguments out.
8th Juror calls into question the validity of the testimony of the old man living downstairs. 9th Juror provides the possibility that the old man was only testifying to feel important. 8th Juror concludes by saying that even if he did hear him say, “I’m gonna kill you,” that very well could be taken out of context as just a figure of speech. With this 5th Juror changes his vote to “not guilty,” and the vote is 9-3 in favor of guilty.
After another heated discussion which raises the question of why the boy would have returned home, after killing his father, they take another vote. This time, 5th, 8th, 9th, and 11th vote “not guilty,” and the deliberation continues.
After a brief argument, 8th Juror brings into question whether or not the downstairs neighbor, an old man who had suffered a stroke and could only walk slowly, could have gotten to the door to see the boy run down the stairs in fifteen seconds, as he had testified. 8th Juror recreates the floor plan of the apartment, while 2nd Juror times him, and they conclude that he would not have been able to reach his door in fifteen seconds.
3rd Juror reacts violently to this and ends up attacking 8th Juror, shouting, “God damn it! I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him.” 8th Juror asks, “You don’t really mean you’ll kill me, do you?” proving his earlier point about how people say, “I’ll kill you,” when they don’t really mean it.
Act II resumes in the same moment we left off with in Act I. After everything calms down, the jurors resume deliberations. Another vote is taken, and the jury is now six to six. They take a break. During this break, it begins to rain outside. Also, they are able to turn the fan on, cooling off the room.
When deliberations resume, 8th Juror attempts to break apart the testimony of the arresting police officer that the defendant was unable to name the movies that he had claimed to have seen that evening. He asserts that possibly the defendant just forgot the names of the films and who was in them “under great emotional distress.”
Upon further discussion about the switchblade, it becomes questionable whether or not the defendant would have made the stab wound, “down and in,” which would be contrary to his knowledge and experience with how to use such a knife.
The jurors take another vote, and it is now nine to three, all but 3rd, 4th, and 10th Juror are in favor of ‘not guilty.’ This launches 10th Juror in a massive bigoted rant, which ends with 4th Juror scolding him back into his seat.
9th Juror calls into question the eyewitness testimony of the woman living across the street, as she wore glasses but chose not to wear them in court, calling into question whether or not she would have been wearing them in bed, when she saw the murder through her window.
Now, the vote is 11 to 1, and 3rd Juror stands alone. At first, he stands firm, saying that he will be the holdout to make this a hung jury. He launches himself into a final massive rant against the boy that descends into nonsense. 8th and 4th Jurors make a short final plea, and 3rd Juror finally concedes, saying “All right. Not guilty.” The Foreman informs the Guard that they have reached a verdict, and the Jurors leave the courtroom.
12 Angry Men
The principle of persuasion is seen when juror #8 decides to carry out a ballot system of voting and wants to know how many of the others stand for his ideas and concept. After the ballot is put when the chits are read, it is found that one more individual other than jury #8 also finds him not guilty. Hence all the other jury members feel that they have been cheated and that the individual who has supported the jury #8 has been mislead by the juror #8. On saying so the juror #9 the wise old man admits that he is the one who had changed his votes because he respected and believed the independence of thought of the juror #8 and he also feels that the boy deserves the right to be given the benefit of doubt and this was possible only if the juror was given support and he felt that he was convinced enough to vote that he was not guilty. He also states that may be the boy would ultimately turn out to be guilty but he would want to hear the entire story and its truth before having to decide upon anything, hence going to prove that the socio-psychological principle of persuasion, worked as the juror #8 changed the ideas, attitude and behavior of the target with the help of information or argument.
The concept on the whole explores the unreliable judgments, deep-seated personal prejudices, indifference, perceptual biases and weaknesses, anger, ignorance and fears, cultural differences, personalities, of the twelve men that would have turned out to actually threaten to spoil their decision-making skills, cause them to make no reckoning of the real matters in the case, and lead them to wrongdoing. It was because of one smart and brave juror who had the guts in him to stand up for what he felt was right and not fall into the group of other individuals and forget his social psychological behavior of conformity that required him to express his thoughts, feelings and behaviors in accordance with the social norms or standards that were set up others.
It is the fact that this juror was able to persistently and persuasively force the other juries to reconsider the case against the endangered defendant. It was because of the fact that he stood up to criticize the eye witnesses and proved them wrong and then criticize the system for actually appointing a public defense lawyer who was not capable enough to handle the case and did not really appreciate being appointed as one.
Although the case on the whole seems pretty easy to understand and also seems to be one that can be easily solved with the knife of the murder scene being found, the eye witnesses and the supposed idea of the boy fleeing. The entire concept portrayed by the jurors, each and every scene enacted by them goes to prove that the jurors’ behavior could be easily socio-psychologically analyzed.
The episodes portrayed in the film if they were not in the situation where may be the jurors would have reacted differently. It has been noticed that these socio-psychological behaviors witnessed in individuals may be actually responsible for the imminent change in their values, lifestyle and their self-concepts.