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Harrison v. Gillespie (U.S. Sup. Ct.)

On September 9, 2011, CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court in support of the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in Harrison v. Gillespie. This case raises important questions about whether the Double Jeopardy Clause entitles a defendant to ascertain whether a jury has acquitted him of a more serious sentence when the jury indicates that it is deadlocked among lesser sentences. 

James Harrison was convicted of a crime that carried the possibility of a capital sentence.  During the capital sentencing phase of Harrison’s trial, the sentencing jury indicated through notes to the judge that it was no longer considering the death penalty, but that it was deadlocked between life with and life without parole.  Harrison requested that the trial court poll the jury before declaring a mistrial to determine whether the jury had ruled out the death penalty.  An acquittal of the capital claims would, under the Double Jeopardy Clause, have prevented the State from seeking the death penalty again during resentencing.  The trial court denied Harrison’s request.  On appeal, the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, narrowly upheld the trial court’s decision by a vote of 6-5. 

CAC’s brief asked the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in this case.  CAC argued that the text and history of the Double Jeopardy Clause supports allowing Harrison to poll the jury on the capital sentence given that it indicated it was no longer considering the death penalty and was only deadlocked as to the lesser sentences.  The rulings to the contrary below frustrate Harrison’s right under the Double Jeopardy Clause to have his trial completed by the jury that heard the case, giving the State a constitutionally unjustified second chance to make its capital case.

On June 4, 2012, the Supreme Court denied certiorari.