One thing that often surprises people who get arrested for something is how many crimes they end up being charged with. One action can break numerous laws, and law enforcement will throw the book at you, charging you for everything that they can think of. While some of these charges fall off over the course of an investigation as prosecutors realize they can't prove them, it's not uncommon for defendants to go to trial facing dozens of charges.
When this happens, the jury has to return a verdict on each and every charge still pending. Many criminal charges, however, have common elements that need to be proved. Sometimes, this can lead to strange results when the jury finds you guilty of one count, but not guilty of another, even though the second charge is included in the first.
This phenomenon is called an inconsistent verdict and is, unfortunately, allowed to happen in U.S. courts.
Inconsistent Verdicts are Permissible
It seems illogical, but even the Supreme Court has decided that inconsistent verdicts are permissible.
The case where the Supreme Court made this decision was from 1932, when prohibition laws still outlawed the sale and drinking of alcohol. Undercover agents conducted a sting at a sporting goods store and were able to buy whiskey from behind the counter. The store owner was charged with three crimes:
- Possession of liquor,
- Selling liquor, and
- Maintaining a nuisance by keeping liquor on sale.
The jury found the defendant guilty of the third crime, but acquitted him of the first two. Of course, this didn't make sense because the third charge required both possessing and selling alcohol. But the jury found the store owner not guilty on both of those charges. Noting the discrepancy, the store owner appealed his conviction on the third charge.
The case went to the Supreme Court, which determined that the conviction was proper. According to the Court, it was proper because, if the charges had been brought one after the other, instead of all at the same time, the acquittal of the first charge would not have prevented the second charge from being made.
While the outcome seems illogical and harsh, the Supreme Court has upheld it time and time again, even expanding it to include cases where two co-defendants are charged for the same crime, and where one is acquitted, but the other is found guilty.
Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly
Because inconsistent verdicts are a fact of the American legal system, it is even more important than ever to have a criminal defense attorney who will fight for your rights and interests before, during, and after a trial. William T. Bly is one such attorney. Contact his law office in Biddeford, Maine online, or at (207) 571-8146 if you need a defense attorney to fight against the charges you're facing.