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Sunday, August 10, 2014


In this case of first impression we held that a trial court improperly terminates a defendant's prosecution, within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-9, by accepting a
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partial verdict where the jury is deadlocked as to greater, charged offenses, but is unanimous in its finding of guilt as to uncharged, lesser-included offenses.
An indictment charged defendant with various offenses, including murder, felony murder and armed robbery, relating to his committing two separate robberies and killing one of the victims. A jury could not reach a unanimous verdict as to those charges but, as to murder and armed robbery, convicted defendant of uncharged, lesser-included offenses. Despite the jury being deadlocked as to the greater, charged offenses, the trial court accepted the jury's verdict and had it recorded. The State sought thereafter to retry defendant on felony murder, and defendant moved to bar a retrial arguing that double jeopardy principles and the improper termination of his prosecution barred a new trial as to those charges. The trial court agreed with defendant's arguments and granted his motion. We stayed further proceedings and granted the State leave to appeal the trial court's order.
After considering the State's argument in the context of the unusual circumstances of this case, we agreed with the trial court that a retrial on felony murder was barred by the improper termination of defendant's prosecution arising from the taint to the jury's verdict caused by the trial court's (1) acceptance of a partial verdict, (2) its failure to insist on there being a unanimous not guilty verdict before taking the verdict on the uncharged, lesser- included offenses, (3) its failure to review the verdict sheet with the jurors, combined with (4) the apparent confusion caused by the court's initially telling the jury to not inform the court if it was deadlocked. We also again restated our concern about the problems that can be created by accepting partial verdicts before a trial court has conducted the appropriate investigation as to whether a jury's deadlock is intractable.