(Washington, D.C.) In a 6-3 decision the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that an Arkansas man can retried after the jury foreperson said he was not guilty of murder.
The court ruled that Ar. can retry Alex Blueford of Jacksonville, Ar. who was charged with capital murder, first-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide in connection with the death of his girlfriend’s 20-month-old child because the jury never actually reached a verdict on any of the charges; there was no final resolution to the case.
The appeal came after the trial court declared a mistrial, but not after hearing from the foreperson that they had unanimously agreed that Blueford was not guilty of the capital murder and first-degree murder charges, but they were deadlocked on the manslaughter charge and had not even voted on the negligent homicide charge.
After being instructed by the court to continue deliberations, the jury reported a half hour later they were still unable to reach a unanimous verdict, although it was never made clear as to what charges. The trial judge without recording the jury’s unanimous agreement finding Blueford innocent of the capital murder and first-degree murder charges declared a mistrial.
Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote the majority opinion for the court said” The Jury did not convict Blueford of any offense, but it did not acquit him of any either.” Roberts was joined in his decision by Justices Antonin Scalia,, , and Samuel Alito.
According to Roberts’ decision and the case history, when the foreperson told the judge that they were deadlocked on the two remaining charges, Blueford’s lawyer asked the judge to submit new verdict forms, in essence allowing them to formally acquit him of the most serious charges-capital and first-degree murder. The judge refused, saying to do so would be “like changing horses in the middle of the stream,” ordering the jury to continue deliberating and ultimately declaring a mistrial when they were unable to reach a unanimous decision, again it is unknown as to what charges the jury was deadlocked on.
According to Roberts’ decision, Blueford claimed that the report from the jury saying they had agreed he was not guilty of the murder charges, bars his retrial on those charges under the “Double Jeopardy Clause” found in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Roberts said in his decision “We disagree. The foreperson’s report was not a final resolution of anything. When the foreperson told the court how the jury had voted on each offense, the jury’s deliberations had not yet concluded. The jurors in fact went back to the jury room to deliberate further, even after the foreperson had delivered her report. When they emerged a half hour later, the foreperson stated only that they were unable to reach a verdict. She gave no indication whether it was still the case that all 12 jurors believed Blueford was not guilty of capital or first-degree murder, that 9 of them believed he was guilty of manslaughter, or that a vote had not been taken on negligent homicide. The fact that deliberations continued after the report deprives that report of the finality necessary to constitute an acquittal on the murder offenses.”
Roberts also said despite the initial report from the foreperson saying that the jury had agreed that Blueford was innocent of the murder charges, when the judge told the jury to continue deliberations “Nothing in the instructions prohibited the jury from reconsidering such a vote…… It was therefore possible for Blueford’s jury to revisit the offenses of capital and first-degree murder, notwithstanding its earlier votes.”
In a dissenting opinion written by Justicejoined by Justices and Elena Kagan, Sotomayor said “Jeopardy terminates upon a determination, however characterized, that the “evidence is insufficient” to prove a defendant’s “factual guilt.”
Justice Sotomayor in disagreeing with the decision to allow Blueford to be retired on the murder charges relied on the jury instructions and even the prosecutors closing remarks telling the jury “Before you can consider a lesser included (charge) of capital murder, you must first, all 12, vote that this man is not guilty of capital murder.”
However, as Roberts said in his decision followed by the majority of the court, because there was no finality to the jury process and the jury was free to reconsider their decision to acquit Blueford of the murder charges, double jeopardy does not apply in this case.
A new trial date has not been scheduled.