Thursday, May 31, 2012

The John Edwards verdict

Today the jury in the John Edwards trial entered a not guilty verdict on one count and hung on the other five counts. Sure, I'm interested in that and, like many, I wonder whether the government will seek to retry the five remaining counts. (I would say no because, well, I don't think the government should get more than one chance to prove its case. The fact that the feds could not convince 12 jurors to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt should be the end of it as far as I'm concerned. And as a taxpayer, I don't appreciate the waste of resources.) But what I'm really interested in is the split verdict thing. And it's something that I haven't seen mentioned in any of the news articles about the verdict. Probably because you have to be a giant legal nerd like me to be aware of this part of it.

But just last week, the US Supreme Court issued what I consider to be a pretty horrifying opinion on double jeopardy on a case involving a split verdict. A jury in Arkansas was tasked with deciding Alex Blueford's guilt on capital murder or three possible lesser degrees of homicide. Officially, the defendant was charged with only one count: capital murder. The other charges the jury was considering were lesser included offenses. In that case, the jury was given the option of acquitting the defendant on all the charges or convicting him of one. But the jury unanimously agreed the defendant was not guilty of capital murder or first degree murder. They just couldn't decide whether he was guilty of one of the lesser charges of manslaughter or negligent homicide. The Supreme Court found that the defendant could be retried on the top charge of capital murder even though the jury indicated its unanimous finding that he was not guilty of that count. Since the defendant was only charged with one count and the other possible convictions were simply lesser includeds, the jury was not allowed to enter a split verdict so their unanimous finding didn't count as a verdict.

In contrast, John Edwards was charged with 6 separate counts, so evidently the jury was allowed to enter a verdict on the charge it did agree on. Now, I think in both situations, in all situations, a jury should be allowed to enter verdicts on the counts it agrees on and a hung jury should only be recorded on the counts the jury doesn't agree on, whether those counts are separately charged counts or lesser included offenses. A jury of 12 individuals has already heard the state's evidence of capital murder against Alex Blueford and unanimously agreed that he was not guilty of that count. The state should not get a second chance to try that charge just because the jury couldn't agree whether he was guilty of some lesser charge. I am glad to know that John Edwards won't have to face retrial on a charge that his jury agreed he should be acquitted on. I just wish the same could be said for Alex Blueford.

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