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Name: Bravo-Fernandez et al. v. United States
Case #: 15-537
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 11/29/2016
Summary

When a jury returns inconsistent verdicts of guilt and acquittal, and the guilty verdict is overturned on appeal, the issue preclusion component of double jeopardy does not bar retrial of the overturned count. A jury returned inconsistent verdicts: it convicted Bravo and Martínez of a federal bribery offense but acquitted them of conspiracy to commit bribery and Travel Act violations. The appellate court reversed the bribery conviction on instructional grounds unrelated to the inconsistent verdicts. On remand, the defendants moved for judgments of acquittal, arguing that the issue preclusion component of double jeopardy precluded retrial. The district court denied the motion and the First Circuit affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Affirmed. The issue preclusion component of double jeopardy bars the government from retrying a defendant for an offense following an acquittal. (See Ashe v. Swenson (1970) 397 U.S. 436.) It also bars retrial of a hung count where the jury acquitted on another count concerning the same issue of ultimate fact. (Yeager v. United States (2009) 557 U.S. 110.) However, issue preclusion does not bar the acceptance of a guilty verdict that is inconsistent with an acquittal. (United States v. Powell (1984) 469 U.S. 57.) Nor does it bar retrial in most instances when a conviction is overturned on appeal. (Justices of Boston Municipal Court v. Lyndon (1984) 466 U.S. 294.) Here, the jury returned inconsistent verdicts of guilty for the bribery offense and not guilty for the other bribery-based offenses. The fact the guilty count was ultimately reversed on appeal based on a ground unrelated to the inconsistent verdicts does not mean that the guilty verdict should be disregarded for issue preclusion purposes. Doing so would undermine the general rule that convictions reversed on appeal are subject to retrial. Furthermore, the preclusion doctrine serves to bar retrial on questions the jury necessarily already decided, but it is impossible to say what, exactly, the jury necessarily decided in this case. Bravo and Martínez failed to demonstrate that the jury actually decided that they did not violate the federal bribery statute.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-537_ap6b.pdf