The Supreme Court has limited the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy in cases involving multiple charges and a deadlocked jury.
In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled Thursday prosecutors may try again to convict a defendant of murder even after jurors in his first trial vote to acquit him of murder -- but split on whether to convict him of a lesser charge of manslaughter.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, speaking for the court, said a defendant is protected against retrials only when the first jury has rendered a “final decision” on the charges against him or her.
Alex Blueford, an Arkansas man, was charged with murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide in the death of his girlfriend’s 1-year-old baby. Blueford maintained the child died in an accidental fall.
After hearing the evidence, jurors reported being “hopelessly deadlocked,” although they had voted unanimously against the first-degree murder charges. When jurors were unable to agree on a verdict, the judge declared a mistrial.
In Blueford v. Arkansas, the high court said the Constitution does not protect a defendant from being tried again for murder. “The jury in this case did not convict Blueford of any offense, but it did not acquit him of any either,” the chief justice said. “As a consequence, the double jeopardy clause does not stand in the way of a second trial on the same offenses.”