U.S. Supreme Court

Forewoman's Report of Deadlock on Lesser Charge Doesn't Bar Retrial for Murder, Supreme Court Rules

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The double jeopardy clause doesn’t bar the murder retrial of an Arkansas man accused in the death of his girlfriend’s toddler son, even though the jury forewoman had announced a deadlock on a lesser charge before deliberations ended, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was joined by five other justices in the majority opinion. “The double jeopardy clause protects against being tried twice for the same offense,” he wrote. “The clause does not, however, bar a second trial if the first ended in a mistrial.”

The forewoman of the jury deliberating charges against Alex Blueford had told the judge that jurors voted unanimously against charges of capital murder and first-degree murder, but they were deadlocked on manslaughter. Jurors had been instructed they could not consider lesser offenses unless they had reasonable doubt on the more serious charges. Jurors were sent back to deliberate further, and when they returned they said they could not reach a verdict. The judge declared a mistrial.

Roberts said the foreperson’s report “was not a final resolution of anything” because jurors continued to deliberate after it was delivered. “The fact that deliberations continued after the report deprives that report of the finality necessary to constitute an acquittal on the murder offenses,” he wrote. And though the jury instructions required jurors to consider the charges in descending order, nothing prevented them from reconsidering during deliberations, he said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented in an opinion joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. The majority “grants the state what the Constitution withholds: ‘the proverbial “second bite at he apple,” ’ ” she wrote.

The case is Blueford v. Arkansas.

Previous coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Supreme Court to Decide Scope of Double Jeopardy When Jury Deadlocks on Lesser Charge”

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