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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Double Jeopardy After Jurors Opposed Verdict

(CN) - A judge properly declared a mistrial after half of the jurors who found a man not guilty of vehicular homicide changed their minds during polling, the Washington Supreme Court ruled.

Prosecutors charged Jon Strine with vehicular homicide after he drove his car into a motorcycle carrying Gary and Lorri Keller.

Strine denied that he was drunk when the accident occurred, but admitted he had been drinking. Lorri Keller died in the crash, and Gary Keller sustained severe injuries.

As the jury foreman read the not-guilty verdict after a two-week trial, some jurors openly wept in the courtroom, according to the ruling.

The Kellers' daughter also had a "strong emotional outburst," ran out of the courtroom and could be heard outside yelling, "He murdered my mom!"

Under the mistaken assumption that the law requires a poll of the jury to ensure the verdict was unanimous, the trial judge polled the jurors and declared a mistrial after six jurors said they did not support the verdict.

Neither the state nor Strine had objected to the poll or to the mistrial, but Strine later claimed that a retrial would constitute double jeopardy.

After the trial judge refused to dismiss the charges, the Court of Appeals certified the issue to the Supreme Court of Washington.

A unanimous nine-justice panel affirmed last week, finding that "defense counsel's failure to object to the trial judge's decision to poll the jury precludes review of Strine's assignments of error related to the jury poll."

"Had Strine objected to the trial judge's decision to poll the jury - i.e., by pointing out that under CrR 6.16(a)(3) the trial judge had discretion to poll the jury, but was not required to poll - the trial judge would have had the opportunity to review the applicable rule and exercise the discretion that Strine argues she failed to exercise," Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote for the court. "As it stands, Strine asked the court to continue the poll and the trial judge had no opportunity to correct her alleged error."

Strine had also conceded at oral argument that he was not acquitted because the jury's original verdict was never entered.

"Therefore, Strine's only basis for claiming that his original jeopardy terminated is that the trial judge discharged the jury without his consent and not in the interest of justice," the ruling states.

Fairhurst said the court found "no reason to hold that the discharge of Strine's jury was in error or contrary to the interest of justice."

"Here, it is evident from the record that Strine's jury disagreed on the verdict and that a unanimous verdict could not be reached. When polled, the jury was divided six-to-six on the verdict," the ruling states. "Following the polling, the presiding juror answered that a unanimous verdict could not be reached, even with additional time to deliberate. The trial judge was justified in concluding that Strine's jury was deadlocked."

The court concluded that "the double jeopardy clause does not prevent the State from reprosecuting Strine because Strine's original jeopardy never terminated."

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