Saturday, October 15, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court Will Examine Double-Jeopardy

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will test the parameters of double-jeopardy protection contained in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to TIME magazine.
Arkansas prosecutors want to try Alex Blueford on capital-murder charges because they believe he hit his girlfriend's 19-month-old toddler, Thomas McFadden Jr., causing his death.
The state already tried Blueford once and without success. During the 2009 trial, Blueford told jurors he had lied repeatedly to the doctors as they rushed to save the boy's life because he was afraid no one would believe him when he explained that his elbow connected to the side of Thomas' head only after the boy had startled him from behind. He insisted it was an accident, reported TIME.
 The jurors apparently believed him. After about 4½ hours of deliberations, the jury forewoman sent a message to the judge saying they were having trouble deciding. According to TIME, back in open court, according to a partial court transcript, the jury forewoman explained that they had voted unanimously — 12 to 0 — for acquittal on the capital-murder charge, and then voted 12 to 0 for acquittal on a charge of first-degree murder. But they were split over a third charge, manslaughter, for which the vote was 9 to 3 to convict. They hadn't yet begun discussing a fourth charge, a misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide, which would have resulted in Blueford's immediate release.
Blueford's attorneys asked the judge to enter the announcement as a verdict on the two most serious charges, but the judge declined. He told the jury to try again and when they reported they were still deadlocked on the manslaughter charge, he immediately declared a mistrial.
According to TIME, prosecutors moved quickly to bring charges against Blueford a second time and readied for a second trial. His attorneys asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to throw out the two murder charges, arguing that another trial would be exactly the kind of double jeopardy the Bill of Rights is designed to protect against. The court disagreed, noting that the forewoman's statements in open court about the unanimous votes to acquit didn't amount to a real verdict because the decisions were never written down on a verdict form and entered into the record. "It is axiomatic that a judgment is not valid until entered of record," the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in January. "We further stated in [a previous case] that a judgment rendered in open court is not controlling until entered or filed of record. The mere reading of the jury's verdict in open court does not constitute an acquittal."
That a defendant would have to endure a second trial after a seeming victory in the first round is nothing new. Prosecutors routinely retry defendants after a hung jury.  But Blueford's case is different, say his attorneys and dozens of law professors and others who have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in his support. For one thing, the jury didn't fail to agree that he was guilty — as with Blagojevich's first case — they actually voted on both serious charges, and in both cases were unanimous that he was not guilty. Lawyer Charles Curtis, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP working pro bono on the case, co-wrote an amicus brief on behalf of more than a dozen criminal-law professors supporting Blueford's request for a Supreme Court hearing. He told TIME that allowing the Arkansas Supreme Court's ruling to stand in this case would be a triumph of form over substance. Just because a jury's unanimous decision isn't read into the record as a formal verdict, and filed in written form, it doesn't mean the 12 jurors hadn't made a decision.
The Arkansas Attroney General's office argues that the trial transcript reveals nothing more than "that a discussion transpired between the trial judge and the jury foreperson without any attendant formalities and before the jury had concluded its deliberations, reported TIME." Its lawyers argue that the state supreme court got it right when it ruled against Blueford in an opinion that "speaks to the well-established requirement that any final verdict must be presented and received in such manner that each juror appreciates the finality and gravity of the verdict and unanimously affirms it."
The ruling isn't expected until sometime next year.

To read more:,8599,2096915,00.html#ixzz1ar88Ourc

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