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Inconsistent jury verdicts not reviewable

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Inconsistent, contradictory, or irreconcilable jury verdicts in criminal cases aren't available for appellate review, the Indiana Supreme Court held Thursday.

The high court granted transfer to Shewanda Beattie v. State of Indiana, No. 82S01-0907-CR-307, to address variations in the state's caselaw on the issue of judicial review of logically inconsistent verdicts in the same case. A jury found Shewanda Beattie guilty of possession of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a family housing complex and possession of marijuana, but not guilty of dealing in cocaine, and possession of cocaine. She challenged that her conviction is fatally inconsistent with her acquittal on the charge of possession of the same cocaine. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the conviction because the jury's verdict left the appellate court unable to determine what evidence the jury believed.

For the most part, Indiana cases have followed U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Dunn v. United States, 284 U.S. 390, 52 S. Ct. 189, 76 L. Ed. 356 (1932), and United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 105 S. Ct. 471, 83 L. Ed. 2d 461 (1984). The Powell court affirmed the ruling in Dunn that a criminal defendant convicted by a jury on one count couldn't attack that conviction because it was inconsistent with the jury's verdict of acquittal on another count. Powell emphasized that defendants are already afforded protection against jury irrationality or error by the availability of an independent review for sufficiency of evidence.

One Indiana case, Marsh v. State, 271 Ind. 454, 393 N.E.2d 757 (1979), deviated from this line of authority and ruled that extremely contradictory and irreconcilable verdicts warrant corrective action by the appellate courts. Before the instant case, only in Owsley v. State, 769 N.E.2d 181 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), has an Indiana appellate court granted relief on this issue.

When a jury returns logically inconsistent verdicts, it could be because the jury misunderstood its instructions or chose to exercise lenity, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. A jury's right to exercise lenity is an important component of the criminal justice system, he continued. Juries can also return inconsistent verdicts because of a compromise among disagreeing jurors, to avoid an all-or-nothing verdict, or for other reasons.

The justices unanimously adopted the federal rule expressed in Dunn and Powell and upheld Beattie's convictions.

"Concluding that the contrasting 'extremely contradictory and irreconcilable' standard devised in Marsh has proven in practice to be unhelpful and inconsistent with Indiana's strong respect for the conscientiousness, wisdom, and common sense of juries, we overrule the standard advanced in Marsh and disapprove of Owsley," Justice Dickson wrote. "Jury verdicts in criminal cases are not subject to appellate review on grounds that they are inconsistent, contradictory, or irreconcilable."

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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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