Articles Posted in Violent Crimes

When a California criminal defendant’s case goes to trial, which of the potential jurors are ultimately selected to serve on a jury can be an important element of the trial. The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed this notion in a recent 7-2 decision in which it overturned a defendant’s conviction for murder due to an improper jury selection.

The defendant was tried six times for the 1996 murders of four employees at a Mississippi furniture store during an armed robbery. The defendant was black and three of the four victims were white. In each trial, there were issues with the selection of the jurors. During the first two trials, the prosecuting attorney used peremptory strikes to strike every one of the black prospective jurors. The juries in both trials convicted the defendant. Those verdicts were overturned based on the prosecutorial misconduct that occurred at trial.

During the third trial, the prosecution again used all of its strikes to remove black prospective jurors. The defendant was found guilty, but the conviction was overturned again because of the improper use of the prosecution’s peremptory strikes. The fourth and fifth times the defendant was tried, the cases ended in mistrials because the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.

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.

In May 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California homicide case discussing whether the trial court correctly instructed the jury on the defendant’s self-defense claim. Ultimately, the court concluded that the jury was properly instructed to consider only known threats that the victim made against others.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant and several other men approached the victim’s trailer to evict him from the property, which was owned by one of the men with the defendant. Evidently, the landowner believed that the victim had stolen from him.

As the defendant approached the victim’s trailer, the victim’s friend, who also lived on a trailer and was being evicted, arrived. The men got into an argument, and the defendant put the victim in a headlock. According to the victim’s friend, the defendant pulled out a gun, put it to the victim’s head, and pulled the trigger. The victim died instantly. It was later determined that the victim had high levels of methamphetamine in his system.

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