Georgia Supreme Court Expounds on the “Repugnant Verdict” Doctrine

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Georgia Supreme Court Expounds on the “Repugnant Verdict” Doctrine

In State v. Owens, a jury convicted Stephan Owens of felony murder.  On appeal to an intermediate appellate court, he obtained a new trial upon a ruling the trial court gave an erroneous instruction to the jury and the jury verdict was inconsistent with the evidence — hence “repugnant” under Georgia jurisprudence.  The prosecution appealed to the state supreme court.  The state high court has now sided with the government and clarified the doctrine of “repugnant verdicts.”  The court stated, “’Repugnant verdicts’ occur when, in order to find the defendant not guilty on one count and guilty on another, the jury must make affirmative findings shown on the record that cannot logically or legally exist at the same time.” (Citations omitted).  When verdicts are repugnant, they must be vacated and a new trial must be conducted.  In contrast, ‘inconsistent verdicts’ occur when a jury in a criminal case renders seemingly incompatible verdicts of guilty on one charge and not guilty on another.”  (Emphasis in original). Inconsistent verdicts are permitted to stand because the jury's rationale is not apparent from the record and courts generally are not permitted to make inquiries into the jury's deliberation process.

Compare Guajardo v. State, 290 Ga. 172, 174 (2), 718 S.E.2d 292 (2011) (repugnant verdicts require reversal "in the rare instance where, instead of being left to speculate as to the jury's deliberations, the appellate record makes transparent the jury's rationale"), with Thornton v. State, 298 Ga. 709, 713-14 (2), 784 S.E.2d 417 (2016) (jury may render inconsistent verdicts because of “mistake, compromise, or lenity” (citing United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 65, 105 S.Ct. 471, 83 L.Ed.2d 461 (1984)).

Federal Judge Tells Deadlocked Jury, “Leave It Here, Come Back in the Morning and Try Again.”

In a bribery case against a former Arkansas state senator, a deliberating jury in mid-afternoon sent a pair of notes to the court saying they were deadlocked and want to quit for the day.  The defense pressed for an anti-deadlock charge to be given.  The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. decided to give the anti-deadlock charge.  However, he also said, “If this case were easy, it would have been resolved some other way. It's hard. The work the jury has to do is hard. … I know you're trying hard, that you are deliberating, looking at evidence and talking to each other. I need you to keep doing that a little while longer.  This has been a long road, and there's no reason to think we can do it better if we do it all again.”  Marshall told them they could go home and return the next morning with this advice:  "If there is disagreement that remains, that's OK because you will have tried hard.  But do your best. Try again. And remember that your verdicts are separate."  Marshall said that there are three options for each charge the defendant faces - guilty, not guilty, or deadlocked, and asked the jury to consider each charge carefully and examine all the evidence.  "It's your call, it's not for me to say," he said. "If half a hog is all I can get instead of the whole hog, we'll take it."

Should Jury in a Sex Abuse Case Against an Athletic Coach Be Asked Their Views About Larry Nassar Scandal?

In a sexual abuse case against a hockey coach, the defense has asked the trial judge to authorize voir dire questioning about juror feelings concerning the Larry Nassar case.  Lawyer Kelli Porges argued, “This is not some obscure story.  This has been saturated for years in the press.  [Jurors] could start making parallels between the cases. I need to know that." According to The Salem News, Judge James Lang initially denied the request calling the Nassar matter “a highly inflammatory and extraneous case that has no bearing on this case."  Later Lang said he might re-consider his ruling.

“Parkland Shooter’s Lawyers Look to Bar Public, Media at Hearings”

That’s the headline in the Miami Herald covering the prosecution of Nikolas Cruz for killing 17 people (and wounding 17 others) at Marjorie Stoneman High School in 2018.  Although no trial date has been set, the Broward County Public Defender Office is asking the trial judge to hold all future pretrial hearings in secret.  The newspaper reports, “Defense lawyers argued that coverage of key hearings — like whether the court should allow Cruz’s confession to be seen by jurors, or over the constitutionality of the death penalty — could taint a future jury pool in Broward County and harm his ability to get a fair and impartial trial.”  Judge Elizabeth Scherer is expected to make a ruling next week.

Media Outlets Want Names of All Chauvin Jurors Published

Law 360 reports a coalition of news media companies have petitioned the Hennepin County District Court (Minnesota) to disclose the names of the jurors who found Derek Chauvin guilty.  They argue, "The public interest in this case, and the national reckoning to which it gave rise, make transparency regarding the identities, backgrounds, and predilections of the people who handed down the verdict more important, not less."  After the Chauvin verdicts were rendered, trial judge Peter Cahill ordered juror identities remain confidential at least until October 20 and until he decides it is “safe to do so.”  In that regard, the Law 360 piece describes a variety of juror fears expressed during jury selection last March.