California High Court Holds Double Jeopardy Clause Bars the Prosecution from Retrying Case on Greater Charge After Mistrial

The California Supreme Court recently decided an interesting case discussing how the double jeopardy clause is implicated after a case results in a mistrial. The issue presented was whether a court must accept a partial verdict of acquittal on a greater offense if a jury has expressly stated that it has acquitted on the greater offense but is deadlocked on the lesser charges.

In this case, the defendant was charged with murder. According to the evidence presented at trial, the defendant’s girlfriend texted the defendant one night saying that she was afraid her father, who lived with her, was going to rape her as he had done in the past. The defendant went to the girlfriend’s house, and a fight ensued. The defendant fatally stabbed the girlfriend’s father with an ice pick.

The case went to trial, and the court instructed the jury on the charge of first-degree murder, as well as the uncharged lesser-included offenses of second-degree murder, and voluntary manslaughter. After a few days of deliberations, the jury foreperson told that court that the jury had “basically ruled out murder in the first degree.” The foreperson stated the jurors were split, with regards to the remaining charges. The court subsequently declared a mistrial because the jury could not reach a decision. Afterward, the defendant argued that the first-degree murder charge should be dismissed based on double jeopardy. The defendant argued that because the court did not receive a partial acquittal on the first-degree murder charge, the court could not retry the defendant on that charge.

Article I, section 15 of the California Constitution and the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution state that a person may not be placed in jeopardy twice for the same offense. This means that a person cannot be retried for an offense after a conviction or an acquittal. In an earlier California Supreme Court decision, Stone v. Superior Court, the court held that a court must accept a partial verdict of acquittal on a greater offense if a jury has expressly stated that it has acquitted on the greater offense but is deadlocked on uncharged less included offenses. In contrast, in Blueford v. Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the double jeopardy clause in the U.S. Constitution does not require a court to accept a partial verdict of acquittal for a greater offense.

In this case, the California Supreme Court explained that federal double jeopardy standards do not require a court to accept a partial verdict. However, the court determined that the Stone case was still good law, because it interpreted the double jeopardy clause in the California Constitution. Because the California Supreme Court already decided that a court must accept a partial verdict of acquittal on a greater offense if a jury has expressly stated that it has acquitted on the greater offense, the court held that the first-degree murder charge should be dismissed, and that the court could not retry the defendant on that charge.

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