Thursday, May 24, 2012

Supreme Court: Retrial Does Not Violate Double Jeopardy

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 today that retrying a defendant on charges on which the jury agreed that defendant was not guilty did not violate double jeopardy in an acquittal-first jurisdiction, where the jury deadlocked on lesser-included charges, and where the judge declared a mistrial.

The ruling, together with earlier Supreme Court cases, means that when a jury agrees that a defendant is not guilty of a greater offense, but when it deadlocks on a lesser-included offense, in an acquittal-first jurisdiction, the state can retry the defendant for the greater offense; but when a jury agrees that a defendant is not guilty of a greater offense, but when it convicts on a lesser offense, the state may not retry the defendant.

The case, Blueford v. Arkansas, arose out of the state's attempt to bring a second case against Alex Blueford for the death of his girlfriend's one-year-old child.  The state first charged Blueford with capital murder and the lesser offenses of first-degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide.  The trial judge instructed the jury to consider the offenses as follows:

If you have a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt on the charge of capital murder, you will consider the charge of murder in the first degree. . . .  If you have a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt on the charge of murder in the first degree, you will then consider the charge of manslaughter. . . .  If you have a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt on the charge of manslaughter, you will then consider the charge of negligent homicide.

The court gave the jury a set of verdict forms, one for each charged offense and one to acquit.  Acquittal was all or nothing: the jury could not acquit on some charges but not others.

The jury reported, in open court, that it was unanimous against guilt on the capital and first-degree murder charges, but that it was deadlocked on manslaughter and had not voted on negligent homicide.  The judge sent the jury back for more deliberation, but the jury was still unable to reach a verdict.  The judge declared a mistrial.

The state sought to retry Blueford.  Blueford moved to dismiss the capital and first-degree murder charges as violating the Double Jeopardy Clause.  

Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the Court that the retrial did not violate double jeopardy.  He said that the jury didn't acquit Blueford of the capital and first-degree murder charges--"[t]he foreperson's report was not a final resolution of anything"--and may well have reconsidered its initial unanimous agreement when the judge sent the case back for further deliberation.  "The fact that deliberations continued after the report deprives that report of the finality necessary to constitute an acquittal on the murder offenses."  The Court also rejected Blueford's argument that the judge's mistrial declaration was premature, without sufficient effort to get the jury to come to a verdict.

Justice Sotomayor dissented, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan.  Justice Sotomayor viewed the jury's report on its agreement on the capital and first-degree murder charges as sufficiently final to trigger double jeopardy.  She also argued for a rule under the Double Jeopardy Clause that a judge in an acquittal-first jurisdiction must grant a partial verdict on the defendant's request: "If a State wants the benefits of requiring a jury to acquit before compromising, it should not be permitted to deprive a defendant of the corresponding benefits of having been acquitted."

SDS

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