The Supreme Court limited the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy in cases involving multiple charges and a deadlocked jury, reports the Los Angeles Times. A 6-3 decision holds that a jury’s unanimous but tentative vote to acquit a defendant on some charges does not count as a verdict. An Arkansas man was tried for murder and manslaughter in the death of his girlfriend’s 1-year-old baby. The jury voted unanimously against the murder charge, but the foreman said they were “hopelessly deadlocked” on whether he was guilty of manslaughter. The judge declared a mistrial.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the constitutional bar against retrials did not prevent the man from being retried for murder. Only a “final decision” of the jury and a “formal verdict” triggers the double jeopardy protection. A jury foreman’s report on the deliberations does not count as a verdict, he said.
The ruling means Alex Blueford can be retried for murder as well as manslaughter and negligent homicide in the death of the baby. Dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court weakened the historic protection against double jeopardy. This rule “unequivocally prohibits a second trial following an acquittal,” and the trial judge in Blueford’s case should have ruled he had been unanimously acquitted on the murder charges, she said.