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Double Jeopardy

Case Name: People v. Aranda (2019) 6 Cal.5th 1077
Case #: S214116
Last Updated: April 4, 2019

Did the Court of Appeal err by holding that double jeopardy prevents retrial of defendant for first degree murder where the jury did not return a verdict on that offense and deadlocked on the lesser included offenses of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, because the trial court failed to afford the jury an opportunity to return a partial acquittal on the charge of first degree murder? (See Blueford v. Arkansas (2012) 566 U.S. ___ [132 S.Ct. 2044]; Stone v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal.3d 503.)

Held: Trial court’s failure to receive verdict of partial acquittal on charged greater offense rendered its declaration of a mistrial without legal necessity, prohibiting retrial under Stone v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal.3d 503. At Aranda’s murder trial the court instructed the jury on the charged first degree murder and the lesser included offenses (LIOs) of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. During deliberations, the jury foreperson told the court the jury had “ruled out” first degree murder but were divided on the LIOs. The trial court did not accept a not guilty verdict on first degree murder and declared a mistrial, though it later dismissed the first degree murder charge. The People appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Affirmed. The trial court is required to accept a partial verdict of acquittal as to a charged greater offense when the jury expressly indicates it has acquitted on that offense but has deadlocked on uncharged LIOs. Failure to do so will cause a declared mistrial to be without legal necessity, barring retrial. (Stone v. Superior Court.) The Stone rule has not been abrogated by Blueford v. Arkansas (2012) 566 U.S. 599, which held that federal double jeopardy principles do not require a trial court to accept a partial verdict. Stone’s fairness rationale, based on California’s general legislative preference for giving effect to unanimous jury verdicts, indicates that there is no reason to abandon the long-established precedent merely because it diverges with federal principles. Although the Fifth Amendment may not require the taking of partial verdicts, neither does it forbid the practice, and the Stone rule survives as an interpretation of the California Constitution’s double jeopardy clause. Here, the record reflects the jury had “ruled out” first degree murder and was split on the LIOs and a not guilty verdict. The trial court’s granting of a mistrial was premature and unsupported by legal necessity, barring retrial of first degree murder.

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