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CRF Blog » Blog Archive » What Purpose Does the Double Jeopardy Clause Serve?

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What Purpose Does the Double Jeopardy Clause Serve?

by Bill Hayes

Writing in Justia, Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb examines the Fifth Amendment’s protection against double jeopardy and an upcoming Supreme Court case in What Purpose Does the Double Jeopardy Clause Serve?: The U.S. Supreme Court Grants Review in Blueford v. Arkansas.

This Clause protects a defendant who has been acquitted on criminal charges from having to stand trial again for the same crime. The question in Blueford is what happens in the following circumstance: A defendant’s jury has announced to the judge that it cannot reach a verdict on a lesser included offense, but it has also voted unanimously to find the defendant “Not guilty” of two greater offenses. (A lesser included offense is a less serious version of another, greater offense.)

At Blueford’s trial, the judge instructed the jury to deliberate on lesser included offenses only after unanimously voting to acquit Blueford on greater offenses. This meant, for example, that unless and until the jury unanimously voted “Not guilty” on capital murder, it could not even discuss the charge of first-degree murder. After some jury deliberation, the foreperson reported to the judge that the jurors had all voted “No” on capital murder and first-degree murder (the greater offenses) but were deadlocked on the charge of manslaughter (a lesser included offense) and—as instructed by the judge—did not even begin deliberation on the fourth (and least serious) charge of negligent homicide. [more]