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What are Inconsistent Verdicts?

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If you or a loved one asks, “What are inconsistent verdicts?” you’re in good company. Many judges, juries, prosecutors, and attorneys question inconsistent verdicts.

At the time a jury verdict is announced, many months or years of hard work is complete. In most criminal cases, but particularly those dealing with complex issues, multiple parties, or claims, the jury may provide an inconsistent verdict.

In fact, when one performs a search for those cases in which an inconsistent jury verdict is noted (in LexisNexis or Westlaw), hundreds of federal cases raise this issue.

What happens with a verdict the attorney and his client can’t reconcile?

Although it’s tempting to believe leaving the matter with the court, or making a written or oral motion for a new trial will resolve the inconsistent jury verdict, that’s not always the case. There are some verdicts that can’t be reconciled.

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What Happens After the Verdict is Announced?

After the verdict is announced in court and the jury is discharged, the post-trial phase starts. If the attorney and his client wait until the jury has gone, the court may assume that the right to challenge is waived.

With most Texas jury verdicts, it’s crucial to object an inconsistent verdict as soon as possible. The attorney must explicitly request that the case is resubmitted to the jury in order to resolve the apparent inconsistency.

What are the Circumstances of the Case?

Either a judge or jury issues a case verdict:

  • If a case includes several distinct charges, each charge must receive a distinct verdict.
  • For example, a defendant may be found guilty of some charges but acquitted of others.
  • Findings may conflict. This is potentially problematic if the defendant is found guilty of two distinct charges. Perhaps he or she must be innocent of one charge to be guilty of another. This is an example of an inconsistent verdict.

What are the Possible Causes of an Inconsistent Verdict?

An inconsistent verdict may occur from several common causes. However, there might be more than a single cause for an inconsistent verdict. Common causes may include:

1. The jury is confused. Jury members may misapply or misunderstand instructions provided by the judge presiding over the case. The jury members might also be confused about the criminal charges the defendant is facing.

2. The judge or jury is compassionate or lenient. In some cases, the jury members or judge might conclude the defendant is guilty. However, the judge or jury opts for a “not-guilty” verdict.

3. The jury members reach a compromise. Perhaps members of the jury argue the case among themselves. Their deliberations are contentious. Instead of refusing to agree, the jury members reach a compromise to obtain a unanimous vote. A compromise vote may result in acquittals and convictions on the charges.

What are the Legal Ramifications of an Inconsistent Verdict?

A number of factors must be considered to determine the legal ramifications of an inconsistent verdict. Generally speaking, an inconsistent verdict isn’t grounds to automatically dismiss the charges or to declare a mistrial.

However, one or more challenges to contradictory verdict(s) may have merit:

  • A defendant found guilty on a marijuana distribution charge but not guilty on a marijuana possession charge might have legal grounds to challenge the outcome.

What Happens in a Case with More than One Defendant?

Inconsistent verdicts are more common in a case involving multiple co-defendants faced with the same criminal charges.

A defendant may decide to argue his or her conviction if one of the co-defendants is acquitted on the same charge:

  • In other words, the defendant could argue an inconsistent verdict because the jury considered the same evidence for himself or herself and one or more co-defendants.
  • In contrast, a defendant might challenge his or her verdict when it’s essentially negated by a “not-guilty” verdict on a different charge. For example, the defendant might challenge that he or she can’t be convicted of a conspiracy charge if his or her co-defendant(s) were acquitted of the same charges.

Is Verdict Consistency Necessary?

No. The jury’s decisions concerning different charges aren’t required to be consistent in order to reach a valid verdict:

  • Each charge must be considered separately from the other charges.
  • In this scenario, the jury may use compromise or compassion to decide the crimes the defendant is accused of committing.

Because the verdict need not be consistent, the defendant or his or her attorney can’t argue conviction(s) on the standard that he or she was acquitted on another criminal charge:

  • Inconsistently is not enough of a reason for the court to set aside a verdict.
  • If the defendant decides to appeal a verdict, the appellate court will consider whether sufficient evidence existed to support a conviction.
  • It’s unnecessary for the conviction to have a rationally compatible basis with the acquittal.

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What Happens if There’s Apparent Inconsistency between Co-Defendants?

When a jury finds a defendant guilty and his or her co-defendant not-guilty of the same crime, an inconsistent result may occur:

  •  This scenario may be present in a conspiracy crime.
  • Conspiracy requires that at least two people agree to commit a crime.
  • It’s possible for one defendant to be convicted of conspiracy while his or her only co-defendant is acquitted of the same charge(s).

It’s common for the courts to uphold inconsistent verdicts between co-defendants. That’s because the verdict(s) need not demonstrate a rational consistency. The jury could acquit the defendant it believes is guilty but convict a co-defendant on the very same charge. It could decide to acquit one of the defendants on the basis of compassion or leniency as well.

Records show that few courts set aside verdicts because of inconsistencies between co-defendants. Case records typically hold that evidence must be identical between the co-defendants.

What Happens if the Defendant Doesn’t Object?

If a defendant fails to object to a unanimity error of the jury and doesn’t waive the error, it affects the court’s analysis. As a result, unanimity errors involving the jury sometimes pass through undetected and don’t encounter an objection.

Prosecutors in such an example are probably happy that the defense didn’t object to the charge, but their happiness might be premature. If the defendant argues a jury charge error in a first appeal, he or she might be out of luck unless egregious harm occurred.

In other words, if the error affected the case bases and deprives the accused of either “a defensive theory” or “valuable right,” egregious harm is not shown.

If an appellate court determines that the error has resulted in egregious harm, a case reversal will occur—even if the defendant didn’t initially object to the charge.

To assess harm, an appellate court considers the entire trial, in particular, questions posed by the jury and jury arguments of the state. Neither party will bear the burden of proof.

Contact an Experienced Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer about Inconsistent Verdicts

Inconsistent verdicts are regularly seen in court but, when argued, they don’t always result in a mistrial or dismissal for the client:

  • That’s because a verdict on a certain charge doesn’t need to be rationally consistent with verdicts reached on other charges to be valid.
  • However, verdicts that are legally inconsistent with a verdict reached on another charge is more likely to be set aside. It may be strategically sound to argue inconsistent verdicts.

If you have questions about inconsistent verdicts, don’t delay. Contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky at 713-227-0087 to arrange an initial case evaluation.

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