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Name: McElrath v. Georgia (2024) ___U.S.___ [144 S.Ct. 651]
Case #: 22-721
Court: US Supreme Court
Opinion Date: 02/21/2024
Summary

The double jeopardy clause bars Georgia State from retrying defendant for a crime that resulted in a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict, even though the jury returned inconsistent verdicts. Georgia State charged McElrath with malice murder and felony murder after he killed his mother. The jury returned a split verdict, finding McElrath not guilty by reason of insanity on the malice-murder charge and guilty but mentally ill on the felony-murder charge. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with McElrath that the verdicts were repugnant under Georgia law (meaning the verdicts involve affirmative findings by the jury that are not legally and logically possible of existing simultaneously). However, instead of vacating only the felony-murder conviction, as McElrath had requested, the State Supreme Court vacated both the malice-murder and felony-murder verdicts. On remand, McElrath argued that the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibited Georgia from retrying him for malice murder in light of the jury’s prior “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict on that charge. The trial court rejected this argument. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Reversed and remanded. Under the Fifth Amendment, a verdict of acquittal is final, ending a defendant’s jeopardy, and is a bar to a subsequent prosecution for the same offense. This is true even when a jury returns inconsistent verdicts. “For double jeopardy purposes, a jury’s determination that a defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity is a conclusion that ‘criminal culpability had not been established,’ just as much as any other form of acquittal.” Here, the jury’s ruling that McElrath was not guilty of malice-murder by reason of insanity was unquestionably a ruling that the prosecution’s proof was insufficient to establish criminal liability. Even though the jury verdicts included special findings, U.S. Supreme Court precedent prohibits any speculation about the reasons for a jury’s verdict.