Yeager v. United States

PETITIONER: F. Scott Yeager
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Enron Broadband Services

DOCKET NO.: 08-67
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 557 US (2009)
GRANTED: Nov 14, 2008
ARGUED: Mar 23, 2009
DECIDED: Jun 18, 2009

ADVOCATES:
Michael R. Dreeben - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States
Samuel J. Buffone - argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In July 2005, a jury in a federal district court acquitted F. Scott Yeager of conspiracy, wire fraud, and security fraud, but hung on 20 counts of insider trading and 99 counts of money laundering in relation to his involvement with Enron Broadband Services. The district court declared a mistrial on the counts the jury hung on. Thereafter, the United States again indicted Mr. Yeager on a portion of the mistried counts. On interlocutory appeal, Mr. Yeager argued that in acquitting him of securities fraud, the jury "necessarily found that he did not have insider information", and therefore collateral estopple prevents the government from retrying him for insider trading and money laundering.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that collateral estoppel does not bar retrial in Mr. Yeager's case. It recognized that Mr. Yeager had the burden of proving the jury necessarily found that he was not guilty of insider trading. He did not, as a jury that found him not guilty of insider trading and "acting rationally" would have acquitted him of insider trading and money laundering. The court reasoned that because it was unclear the jury's rationale for its decisions, Mr. Yeager's mistried counts did not prevent his retrial on those counts.

Question

Does the Double Jeopardy Clause bar retrial when a jury acquits a defendant on some counts, but fails to reach a verdict on other counts whose essential elements must have been decided in the defendant's favor by a rational jury?

Media for Yeager v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 2009 in Yeager v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 18, 2009 in Yeager v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Stevens has our opinion this morning in case 08-67, Yeager versus United States.

John Paul Stevens:

This case comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Petitioner, a former executive of a subsidiary of Enron Corporation was charged in a federal indictment with securities and wire fraud and with insider trading and money laundering.

The indictment alleged that petitioner misled the public about the virtues of a fiber-optic communications system being developed by his former employer and that he then enriched himself by trading Enron's stock without divulging the truth about the system.

After a 13-week jury trial, the jury acquitted petitioner on the fraud charges but failed to reach a verdict on the insider-trading and money-laundering counts.

The Government later reindicted petitioner for the counts in which the jury had hung.

Petitioner moved to dismiss the new indictment on the ground that the issue-preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy Clause barred retrial on those charges.

Specifically, he asserted that the jury's verdict of acquittal at the first trial had necessarily determined that he did not possess insider information and that a second trial for insider-trading and money-laundering would turn on that issue.

The District Court denied the motion and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

The Fifth Circuit concluded that to decipher what the -- the issues the jury had decided in its verdict, it could consider the jury's failure to reach a verdict on other counts.

Using that approach, the Court explained that if the jury had in fact included that petitioner did not possess insider information, it would have acquitted him of the insider-trading and money-laundering.

The fact that the jury instead hung on those counts, the Court explained made it impossible to decide what the jury had necessarily decided in its acquittals.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the Government to prosecute petitioner again.

We granted certiorari and now reverse and remand.

For reasons stated in an opinion filed with the clerk, we hold that the consideration of hung counts has no place in the issue-preclusion analysis.

To identify what a jury necessarily determined at trial, the Court should scrutinize the jury's decisions, not its failures to decide.

A contrary conclusion would require improper speculation into what transpired in the jury room.

Thus, if the possession of insider information was a critical issue of ultimate fact in all of the charges against petitioner, a jury verdict that necessarily decided that issue in petitioner's favor protects him from prosecution for any charge for which that is an essential element.

Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Thomas and Alito have joined.

And Justice Alito has also filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Scalia and Thomas have joined.