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Blueford v. Arkansas: Double Jeopardy Inapplicable in Mistrial

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in Blueford v. Arkansas that the State of Arkansas can re-try a defendant for murder, even after the jurors unanimously found him not guilty.

Arkansas avoided the dreaded scourge of double jeopardy in the case because the jury never actually acquitted the defendant in question.

Arkansas charged petitioner Alex Blueford with capital murder for the death of a one-year-old child, and the lesser included offenses of first-degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide, reports The New York Times.

Before deliberation, the court gave the jury 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 all, was not an option.

The jury reported that it could not reach a verdict, and the court declared a mistrial. When the State decided to retry Blueford, he moved to dismiss the capital and first-degree murder charges on double jeopardy grounds.

The case wormed its way through the state and federal appeals process. Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that Arkansas can retry Blueford because he was never officially cleared of the charges, reports The Washington Post.

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito, concluded, that "the foreperson's report was not a final resolution," and that while "the jury in this case did not convict Blueford of any offense ... it did not acquit him of any either."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan, criticized the majority view as giving the state the "the proverbial second bite at the apple." Justice Sotomayor noted, "In an acquittal-first jurisdiction, a jury that advances to the consideration of a lesser included offense has not demonstrated an inability to decide a defendant's guilt or innocence on a greater -- it has acquitted on the greater."

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