May 24, 2012

Supreme Court Decides Blueford v. Arkansas

On May 24, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Blueford v. Arkansas, No. 10-1320, holding that the Double Jeopardy Clause did not prevent retrial of a defendant for capital and first-degree murder after the jury reported that it unanimously voted against conviction on those counts because the jury's report was not an acquittal. Nor did the trial court err when it declared a mistrial, because the trial court was not required to provide the jury with the option of acquitting as to some offenses but not as to others.

Alex Blueford was charged with capital murder, following the death of his girlfriend's one-year-old son. At trial, the court provided the jury with five verdict forms—one for each of the charged offenses (capital murder, first-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide) and one allowing the jury to acquit on all charges. After several hours of deliberation, the jury reported it was deadlocked, and the court inquired as to the jury's votes on each offense. The foreperson reported that the jury unanimously voted against capital murder and first-degree murder, deadlocked as to manslaughter, and had not voted on negligent homicide. Ultimately, the jury was unable to reach a verdict and the trial court declared a mistrial. The state subsequently sought to retry Blueford on all counts. He moved to dismiss the capital and first-degree murder charges on double jeopardy grounds. The trial court denied Blueford's motion and the Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed on interlocutory appeal. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Before the Supreme Court, Blueford argued that the jury's announcement as to the capital and first-degree murder charges represented "a resolution of some or all of the elements of those offenses in Blueford's favor." Therefore, no formal judgment was required. The Supreme Court disagreed and stated that the foreperson's report "was not a final resolution of anything." When the foreperson reported how the jury had voted on each offense, the jury's deliberations had not yet concluded. Indeed, following the colloquy with the trial court, the jurors returned to the jury room to deliberate further. When the jury again reported that it was deadlocked, the jurors gave no indication about how it voted on each offense. The Court emphasized that "[t]he fact that deliberations continued after the report deprives that report of the finality necessary to constitute an acquittal on the murder offenses."

Blueford also argued that the trial court erred when it declared a mistrial as to all charges. He contended a mistrial on the capital and first-degree murder charges was unnecessary because the foreperson reported that the jury had voted unanimously against guilt on both counts. Blueford claimed that the trial court should have taken some action to permit the jury to give effect to those votes. The Supreme Court disagreed and noted that under Arkansas law, "the jury's options in this case were limited to two: either convict on one of the offenses, or acquit on all." Thus, there was no abuse of discretion when the trial court refused to give the jury "another option—that of acquitting on some offenses but not others." The Double Jeopardy Clause did not provide Blueford that type of relief.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, which Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito joined. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan.

Download Opinion of the Court

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