Blueford v. Arkansas

PETITIONER: Alex Blueford
RESPONDENT: Arkansas
LOCATION: Pulaski County Circuit Court

DOCKET NO.: 10-1320
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: Arkansas Supreme Court

CITATION: 566 US (2012)
GRANTED: Oct 11, 2011
ARGUED: Feb 22, 2012
DECIDED: May 24, 2012

ADVOCATES:
Clifford M. Sloan - for the petitioner
Dustin McDaniel - Attorney General of Arkansas, for the respondent

Facts of the case

On November 28, 2007, Alex Blueford and a friend of his were left in charge of the 20-month-old son of Blueford's live-in girlfriend. Approximately one hour after being left with the child, Blueford's friend called emergency services because the child was having difficulty breathing. The child died two days after being rushed to the hospital. A medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was a close head injury, and the State of Arkansas subsequently brought several charges against Blueford for the death of the child.

The state charged Blueford with capital murder, first-degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide. At the conclusion of the trial, the court instructed the jury to consider each charge one at a time, and to consider the greater offenses before lesser offenses. After over four hours of deliberation, the jury returned. The forewoman stated that the jury was deadlocked. The Judge asked the forewoman about each charge, and she stated that the jury was unanimously against the capital murder charge, unanimously against the first-degree murder charge, and deadlocked on the manslaughter charge. The jury returned for further deliberation but remained deadlocked. The judge released the jury, and the court declared a mistrial.

The state sought to retry Blueford on all charges. Blueford filed a motion to dismiss the capital murder and first-degree murder charges on double jeopardy grounds, arguing that the jury had made a decision on those two counts. The trial court denied the motion on the basis that the juror's communication to the judge was a casual communication and not an acquittal. Blueford made an interlocutory appeal to the Supreme Court of Arkansas, which affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion. After the Supreme Court of Arkansas denied Blueford's petition for rehearing, Blueford appealed the decision.

Question

1. Did the jury forewoman's announcements of unanimous votes on capital and first-degree murder constitute acquittals under the Fifth Amendment's Double Jeopardy Clause, prohibiting Arkansas from retrying Blueford on those charges?

2. Was there was a manifest necessity to declare a mistrial on charges of capital and first-degree murder?

Media for Blueford v. Arkansas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 22, 2012 in Blueford v. Arkansas

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 24, 2012 in Blueford v. Arkansas

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

I have our opinion this morning in case 10-1320, Blueford versus Arkansas.

The Double Jeopardy Clause, as a general matter, prohibits trying someone twice for the same offense.

It has long been established, however, that a person maybe tried again if the jury could not agree on a verdict at his first trial.

If a jury cannot reach a verdict, the judge declares what is known as a mistrial and the prosecution gets to decide whether to retry the defendant.

Now, in this case the State of Arkansas charged petitioner, Alex Blueford, with capital murder for the death of one-year-old child.

That charge included the lesser offenses of first-degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide.

In other words, the jury could convict Blueford of anyone of those offenses depending on its view of the evidence and whether it thought the prosecution had carried its burden of proof on the particular elements that went with each offense.

At trial, the court instructed the jury, when deliberating, to consider the offenses in order, from greater to lesser.

Thus, the jury was told to begin with capital murder then if the jury had a reasonable doubt about whether Blueford was guilty of capital murder, to go on to first-degree murder.

Next, if the jury had a reasonable doubt on first-degree murder to go on to manslaughter, and so on.

The court also presented the jury with 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 others was not an option.

After deliberating for a few hours, the jury reported that it could not reach a verdict.

The court inquired about the jury's progress on each offense.

The foreperson said that the jury was unanimous against guilt on the charges of capital murder and first-degree murder, was deadlocked on manslaughter, and had not voted on negligent homicide.

The Court told the jury to continue to deliberate.

The jury did so but still could not reach a verdict and the court declared a mistrial.

The State subsequently sought to retry Blueford.

Everybody agrees that he may be retried on charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide.

The question is whether he may also be retried on charges of capital and first-degree murder.

Blueford says he can't be, because the foreperson's report that the jury was unanimous against guilt on capital and first-degree murder represented an acquittal on those charges.

That report, however, was not a final resolution of anything.

When the foreperson told the Court how the jury had voted on each offense, the jury's deliberations had not yet concluded.

The jurors in fact went back to the jury room to deliberate further and nothing in the Court's instructions prohibited them from reconsidering their earlier votes as deliberations continued.

The foreperson's report prior to the end of deliberations, therefore, lacked the finality necessary to amount to an acquittal on capital and first-degree murder.

Blueford's other reason for why he can't be retried is that the trial court's declaration of a mistrial was improper.

Blueford contends that there was no necessity for a mistrial on capital and first-degree murder given that the foreperson's report that the jury had voted unanimously against guilt on those charges meant that he had been acquitted on them.

At that -- according to Blueford at that time, the court should have allowed the jury to give effect to those votes and then considered a mistrial only as to the remaining charges.

But as permitted under Arkansas law, the jury's options in this case were limited to two, either convict on one of the offenses or acquit on all.

The jury in this case was unable to do either and the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to add another option, that of acquitting on some offenses but not others.