THE TEA PARTYER
May 29, 2012
While the rest of America was settling in for the Memorial Day Weekend the Supreme Court decided
to restrict the terms of one of this country’s founding principles by slightly eroding the protection from being tried twice for the same crime
Double Jeopardy is an established protection that has long standing in this country in The Fifth Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution. Many people suffered needlessly for crimes they did not commit when our country was under the rule of England. One of the most diabolical tools used by the King against the enemies of the crown was to put a person on trial several times for the same crime until that person was found guilty. People would languish for years in prison and it was a way to silence dissension of the government.
The action taken by the Supreme Court on May 24, 2012 stems from a case originally tried in Arkansas
where the defendant was charged with four different crimes: capital murder, first-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide. The jury in the first trial was deadlocked. There was no vote on the crime of negligent homicide and they were divided over the question of manslaughter, but did come to a unanimous decision that the defendant was not guilty of capital or first degree murder. The Judge declared a mistrial and the Prosecutors decided to retry the defendant on all charges in the case of Blueford v. Arkansas, No. 10-1320.
However, during deliberations of the case, the Defense asked the court to submit new verdict forms to the jurors asking for counts on the already decided verdicts. The Prosecution objected, because the jury was still deliberating and an acquittal had to be, “all or nothing.” The Defense request was denied by the court and the court made its ruling.
The origins of the argument begin in the fact that the case was declared a mistrial and did not get a final ruling on the actual charge, so therefore the prosecutors in the case filed for a retrial believing the defendant was not protected from Double Jeopardy. In addition, the jury in the first trial, during the trial, again was able to deliberate over the charges, nor was it prohibited from reconsidering its vote on the more serious of the charges, and could have changed its mind at any time before returning to the courtroom. That is the splitting of legal hairs.
The attorneys for the defendant claim that because the jury made a consciously unanimous decision and decided that the defendant is innocent of the most severe charges, this gave their client freedom from retrial for the same crimes. It was the belief of the attorneys that the prosecutor could retry their client for the lesser charge of manslaughter. It is formality and the lack of the finality of the ruling where the defense has the problem of claiming Double Jeopardy.
It is not improper for a court to declare a mistrial when ““particular circumstances manifest a necessity”. However, the defense argued that since the foreperson reported that the jury had already voted unanimously against the two more serious crimes, at that point in time during the trial, the court should have taken some action to obtain a partial verdict.
The defense in this case has to acknowledge that the jury was limited to two options: either an all-out acquittal or conviction of one of the other charges. There was no reason, nor any obligation of the court to give a third
option to the jury for acquitting on some of the charges. That is the crux of the debate and that is what gives rise to the several distinct opinions in this trial. The Supreme Court has never required a trial court to consider any other way of breaking an impasse before declaring a mistrial because of a hung jury, much less given new choices for the jury to consider.
Supreme Court Justice Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer and Alito gave the opinion that the defendant could be tried again, because the original court was justified in declaring a mistrial with no final verdict. Plus, there was no formal verdict on the disputed charges. With a 6-3 divide Justice Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Kagan filed the dissenting opinion citing the jury came to an informal decision, which should have been recognized
by the court, thus giving the defendant Double Jeopardy protections. These laws keep the courts from getting another “bite at the apple” and abusing the system. In one instance of the dissenting opinion there was a quote from a similar trial Sanabria v. United States claiming, “Form is not to be exalted over substance.”
In the Blueford case, the dissenting Supreme Court Justices made the opposing opinion based on the jury’s decision and that was on the charges of capital or first-degree murder, even though a court of law did not formalize those decisions.
It is my opinion that the jury should have been able to deliberate on the criteria of the trial based on the individual case they were adjudicating, but only after the informing of the jury about their right to deliberate the laws, which established the crimes charged against the defendant. If the juror finds the law to be as offensive as the crime charged against the defendant, or the charge overreaches the crime committed, then the jury or one juror can nullify the law. Unfortunately, that would still lead to a mistrial, so the state court should have reformulated the charges in a manner so that the members of the jury could have made an objective decision. The court could have done that at trial, or they could have allowed the jury to submit their own standards for the
charges, within the definition of state and federal law, and added it to the verdict forms they were filing.
The Supreme Court should have found in favor of the defendant or the case should have been rejected and sent back to the state of Arkansas. Either way, this is a case of an uninformed jury being left to the devices of an overbearing justice system, a system that was originally designed, so that ten guilty men would go free before
one innocent man should ever be found guilty. The Justices made the wrong decision based on a bad premise.
“Rob Taylor was the original organizer of the TEA Parties in Coos County and is currently an independent activist working to promote the rights of the individual.”
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