Acquittal by Jury.

Little or no controversy accompanies the rule that once a jury has acquitted a defendant, government may not, through appeal of the verdict or institution of a new prosecution, place the defendant on trial again.103 Thus, the Court early held that, when the results of a trial are set aside because the first indictment was invalid or for some reason the trial’s results were voidable, a judgment of acquittal must nevertheless remain undisturbed.104

Footnotes

103
What constitutes a jury acquittal may occasionally be uncertain. In Blueford v. Arkansas, 566 U.S. ___, No. 10–1320, slip op. (2012), the defendant was charged with capital murder in an “acquittal-first” jurisdiction, in which the jury must unanimously agree that a defendant is not guilty of a greater offense before it may begin to consider a lesser included offense. After several hours of deliberations, the foreperson of the jury stated in open court that the jury was unanimously against conviction for capital murder and the lesser included offense of first degree murder, but was deadlocked on manslaughter, the next lesser included offense. After further deliberations, the judge declared a mistrial because of a hung jury. Six Justices of the Court subsequently held that the foreperson’s statement on capital murder and first degree murder lacked the necessary finality of an acquittal, and found that Double Jeopardy did not bar a subsequent prosecution for those crimes. Three dissenting Justices held that Double Jeopardy required a partial verdict of acquittal on the greater offenses under the circumstances. In Schiro v. Farley, 510 U.S. 222 (1994), the Court ruled that a jury’s action in leaving the verdict sheet blank on all but one count did not amount to an acquittal on those counts, and that consequently conviction on the remaining count, alleged to be duplicative of one of the blank counts, could not constitute double jeopardy. In any event, the Court added, no successive prosecution violative of double jeopardy could result from an initial sentencing proceeding in the course of an initial prosecution. back
104
In United States v. Ball, 163 U.S. 662 (1896), three defendants were placed on trial, Ball was acquitted and the other two were convicted, the two appealed and obtained a reversal on the ground that the indictment had been defective, and all three were again tried and all three were convicted. Ball’s conviction was set aside as violating the clause; the trial court’s action was not void but only voidable, and Ball had taken no steps to void it while the government could not take such action. Similarly, in Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784 (1969), the defendant was convicted of burglary but acquitted of larceny; the conviction was set aside on his appeal because the jury had been unconstitutionally chosen. He was again tried and convicted of both burglary and larceny, but the larceny conviction was held to violate the Double Jeopardy Clause. On the doctrine of “constructive acquittals” by conviction of a lesser included offense, see discussion infra under “Reprosecution After Reversal on Defendant’s Appeal.” back