Blueford v. Arkansas
Annotate this Case
566 US ___ (2012)
This case arose when defendant was charged with capital murder for the death of a one-year-old. Before the jury concluded deliberations, it reported that it was unanimous against guilt on charges of capital murder and first-degree murder, was deadlocked on manslaughter, and had not voted on negligent homicide. The trial court told the jury to continue to deliberate. The jury did so but still could not reach a verdict, and the trial court declared a mistrial. All agreed that defendant could be retried on charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide. At issue was whether defendant could also be retried on charges of capital and first-degree murder. The Court concluded that the jury in this case did not convict defendant of any offense, but it did not acquit him of any either. When the jury was unable to return a verdict, the trial court properly declared a mistrial and discharged the jury. As a consequence, the Double Jeopardy Clause did not stand in the way of a second trial on the same offenses. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Arkansas.
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
BLUEFORD v. ARKANSAS
certiorari to the supreme court of arkansas
No. 10–1320. Argued February 22, 2012—Decided May 24, 2012
The State of Arkansas charged petitioner Alex Blueford with capital murder for the death of a one-year-old child. That charge included the lesser offenses of first-degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide. Before the start of deliberations, the trial court instructed the jury to consider the offenses as follows: “If you have a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt on the charge of capital murder, you will consider the charge of murder in the first degree. . . . If you have a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt on the charge of murder in the first degree, you will then consider the charge of manslaughter. . . . If you have a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt on the charge of manslaughter, you will then consider the charge of negligent homicide.” The court also presented the jury with a set of verdict forms, which allowed the jury either to convict Blueford of one of the charged offenses, or to acquit him of all of them. Acquitting on some but not others was not an option.
After deliberating for a few hours, the jury reported that it could not reach a verdict. The court inquired about the jury’s progress on each offense. The foreperson disclosed that the jury was unanimous against guilt on the charges of capital murder and first-degree murder, was deadlocked on manslaughter, and had not voted on negligent homicide. The court told the jury to continue to deliberate. The jury did so but still could not reach a verdict, and the court declared a mistrial. When the State subsequently sought to retry Blueford, he moved to dismiss the capital and first-degree murder charges on double jeopardy grounds. The trial court denied the motion, and the Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed on interlocutory appeal.
Held: The Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar retrying Blueford on charges of capital murder and first-degree murder. Pp. 5−10.
(a) The jury did not acquit Blueford of capital or first-degree murder. Blueford contends that the foreperson’s report that the jury was unanimous against guilt on the murder offenses represented a resolution of some or all of the elements of those offenses in his favor. But the 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, and nothing in the court’s instructions prohibited them from reconsidering their votes on capital and first-degree murder as deliberations continued. The foreperson’s report prior to the end of deliberations therefore lacked the finality necessary to amount to an acquittal on those offenses. That same lack of finality undermines Blueford’s reliance on Green v. United States, 355 U. S. 184 , and Price v. Georgia, 398 U. S. 323 . In both of those cases, the verdict of the jury was a final decision; here, the report of the foreperson was not. Pp. 5−8.
(b) The trial court’s declaration of a mistrial was not improper. A trial can be discontinued without barring a subsequent one for the same offense when “particular circumstances manifest a necessity” to declare a mistrial. Wade v. Hunter, 336 U. S. 684 . Blueford contends that there was no necessity for a mistrial on capital and first-degree murder, given the foreperson’s report that the jury had voted unanimously against guilt on those charges. According to Blueford, the court at that time should have taken some action, whether through new partial verdict forms or other means, to allow the jury to give effect to those votes, and then considered a mistrial only as to the remaining charges. Blueford acknowledges, however, that the trial court’s reason for declaring a mistrial here—that the jury was unable to reach a verdict—has long been considered the “classic basis” establishing necessity for doing so. Arizona v. Washington, 434 U. S. 497 . And this Court has never required a trial court, before declaring a mistrial because of a hung jury, to consider any particular means of breaking the impasse―let alone to consider giving the jury new options for a verdict. See Renico v. Lett, 559 U. S. ___, ___. As permitted 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. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to add another option—that of acquitting on some offenses but not others. Pp. 9−10.
2011 Ark. 8, ___ S. W. 3d ___, affirmed.
Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg and Kagan, JJ., joined.