[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled Tuesday in Bravo-Fernandez v. US [opinion, PDF] that the double jeopardy clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] does not bar the government from retrying defendants after a jury has returned inconsistent verdicts and the convictions are later vacated due to legal error unrelated to the inconsistency of the jury. The court relied heavily on the precedent set by Ashe v. Swenson [opinion] that the issue-preclusion component of the double jeopardy clause does not mean that defendants cannot be retried on acquittal unless it is “determined by a valid and final judgment of acquittal.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion for a unanimous court:
One cannot know from the jury’s report why it returned no verdict. “A host of reasons” could account for a jury’s failure to decide—”sharp disagreement, confusion about the issues, exhaustion after a long trial, to name but a few.” … But actual inconsistency in a jury’s verdicts is a reality; vacatur of a conviction for unrelated legal error does not reconcile the jury’s inconsistent returns. We … affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, which held that issue preclusion does not apply when verdict inconsistency renders unanswerable “what the jury necessarily decided.”
The court ruled that the charges that the defendant’s were acquitted on are final and may never be retried, however the charge of bribery that they were found guilty of can be retried due to legal error. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion.In this case, the defendants, Bravo and Martinez, were found guilty by a jury of bribery in violation of 18 USC §666 [text]. The jury also acquitted them of conspiring to violate §666 and traveling in interstate commerce to violate §666. The guilty verdict were later vacated on appeal because of error in the judge’s instructions unrelated to the verdicts’ inconsistency. The Supreme Court heard arguments [JURIST report] in this case in October.