Jeopardy and a Half?

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the US Constitution bars the government from trying a defendant twice for the same crime. So assume that a defendant is charged with first and second degree murder. The jury acquits the defendant of first degree murder, but is “hung” because it can’t agree on whether to convict the defendant of second degree murder. The government can re-try the defendant for second degree murder, but not for first degree murder.

Blueford v. Arkansas requires the US Supreme Court to interpret the Double Jeopardy Clause in the context of a jury’s mid-deliberation statement to a judge. Blueford was charged with killing his girlfriend’s 19 month old baby. The charges ran the gamut from most serious (capital murder) to least serious (negligent homicide).

After 3 hours of deliberation, the jurors came back to the courtroom and the foreperson indicated that they were stalemated. They were unanimous against capital and first degree murder, but stuck on manslaughter, 9-3 in favor of conviction. The judge sent the jurors back for more deliberation, but 30 minutes later they reurned, having made no further progress. The judge declared a mistrial.

Arkansas plans to re-try Blueford, and everyone agrees that he can be charged with manslaughter and negligent homicide. But does Double Jeopardy prevent the state from charging him again with capital and first degree murder? Blueford argues that the foreperson’s mid-deliberation statement in open court is the equivalent of a formal acquittal of those charges. Arkansas argues that no final verdict was had. The foreperson’s statement was only an informal “here’s where we’re at” that the jurors could legally have changed to a conviction for murder.

My thoughts: The foreperson clearly indicated that the jurors had unanimously rejected the capital and murder one charges. That didn’t end the jurors’ task, but partial verdicts are quite common. Since the jurors deliberated only for another 30 minutes, they obviously didn’t re-think the murder charges. If I had a vote, I’d uphold Blueford’s Double Jeopardy claim. But I don’t.