BLUEFORD v. ARKANSAS

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
10-1320
Petitioner 
Alex Blueford
Respondent 
Arkansas
Decided By 
Advocates
(for the petitioner)
(Attorney General of Arkansas, for the respondent)
Term:
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?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for Arkansas, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Fifth Amendment

No and yes. In a 6-3 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court held that the Double Jeopardy Clause did not prohibit Arkansas from retrying Blueford on charges of capital and first-degree murder. Chief Justice Roberts rejected Blueford’s argument that the jury actually acquitted him of capital and first-degree murder. He determined that the forewoman's report was not a final resolution of anything, reasoning that the jury instructions left the jury free to reconsider its vote on the capital and first-degree murder charges after the forewoman's report. Unlike cases where acquittal on lesser charges precluded retrial on greater charges, the jury’s decision here was not final.

Chief Justice Roberts also held that the trial court’s declaration of a mistrial was proper, rejecting Blueford’s argument that there was not manifest necessity to declare a mistrial. Blueford conceded that a jury deadlock was the classic basis for declaring a mistrial, and accepted that a second trial on manslaughter and negligent homicide would not pose a double jeopardy problem. Although Blueford argued that the court should have given effect to the jury’s unanimous votes on capital and first-degree murder, Chief Justice Roberts noted that Arkansas law only allowed for a guilty verdict on one or more charges, or a complete acquittal on all charges.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. She characterized the forewoman's announcements of unanimous votes on capital and first-degree murder as acquittals, arguing that Arkansas required a jury to acquit on greater charges before considering lesser charges. She also disagreed that the jury was free to reconsider its unanimous votes on the charges. Finally, Justice Sotomayor argued that manifest necessity required trial judges in acquittal-first jurisdictions to honor requests for a partial verdict before declaring a mistrial; moreover, there was no clear necessity for a mistrial.

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BLUEFORD v. ARKANSAS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 24 October 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2011/2011_10_1320>.
BLUEFORD v. ARKANSAS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2011/2011_10_1320 (last visited October 24, 2014).
"BLUEFORD v. ARKANSAS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed October 24, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2011/2011_10_1320.