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What are Inconsistent Verdicts?

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Depending upon the circumstances of the case, a verdict may be issued either by a judge or a jury. If the case involves several distinct charges, a distinct verdict must be issued for each separate charge. It is quite common for a defendant to be found guilty of some of his charges while being acquitted of others. A defendant may also be found guilty of two charges that directly conflict with each another. In other words, a defendant might find himself in a situation where he must be innocent of one crime in order to be guilty of the other. In scenarios like this, the verdicts are said to be “inconsistent.”

Potential Causes of an Inconsistent Verdict

Inconsistent verdicts have several common causes. In some cases, there may be more than one cause for a particular inconsistent verdict. These causes can include:

  • Jury confusion: The members of a jury can sometimes misunderstand or misapply the instructions that are given to them by the presiding judge. They may also misunderstand the crimes with which the defendant is charged.
  • Leniency: A judge or jury may believe that the defendant is guilty, but chooses to issue a not-guilty verdict anyway.
  • Compromise: A case that produces contentious deliberations in the jury room may end with a “compromise” verdict. In order to secure a unanimous or near-unanimous vote, the jury foreman may broker a compromise that results in acquittals on some charges and convictions on others.

Legal Ramifications

The legal ramifications of inconsistent verdicts depend upon a number of factors. In general, an inconsistent verdict is not grounds for the automatic dismissal of the charges or the declaration of a mistrial in the case. However, challenges to verdicts that obviously contradict each other may hold water. For instance, a defendant who is simultaneously found to be guilty on a charge of marijuana distribution and not guilty on a charge of marijuana possession may have grounds to challenge this apparently contradictory outcome.

Cases With Multiple Defendants

Inconsistent verdicts are particularly common in cases that involve multiple co-defendants who are charged with the same crimes. A defendant may choose to challenge his or her conviction in light of a co-defendant’s acquittal on the same charge. He or she might argue that the verdict is inconsistent because the jury weighed identical evidence for both co-defendants. Alternatively, a defendant may challenge a guilty verdict issued on a charge that has been negated by a not-guilty verdict on another charge. For instance, a defendant may argue that he or she cannot be convicted of conspiracy when his or her co-defendant was simultaneously acquitted of the charge.

Challenging an Inconsistent Verdict

Although they occur with some regularity, inconsistent verdicts do not always result in dismissals or mistrials. A verdict on a specific charge does not have to be rationally consistent with the verdicts on other charges in order to be valid. However, a verdict that is legally inconsistent with the verdict on another charge is likely to be set aside.

To get additional information about inconsistent verdicts, talk to Brett A. Podolsky at 713-227-0087.

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