Florida criminal attorneys are often asked about the jury system in criminal cases. After trying many cases to verdict, the issue of inconsistent verdicts in criminal cases arises on occasion when talking to clients charged criminally in Broward County.
Broward County criminal lawyers will tell you that Florida law generally permits a jury to render inconsistent verdicts based on the rationale that jury verdicts can be the result of lenity and do not always speak to the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant. However, if a verdict is found to be a true inconsistency because an acquittal on one count negates an element necessary for conviction on another count, the inconsistency is impermissible.
In Mantilla v. State, the Third District Court of Appeals considered the issue of inconsistent jury verdicts. In April 2006, Defendant Mantilla was arrested after law enforcement responded to a home invasion call at Mantilla’s rented home. Law enforcement discovered marijuana growing in the garage. Mantilla claimed he had no access to the garage arguing that the garage was occupied by another individual and claimed to have no access to that portion of the premises. However, a search executed later pursuant to a valid search warrant, yielded a key to the garage and thus invalidated Defendant’s argument. Defendant was charged with the following three counts:
Count I: trafficking cannabis in an amount greater than 25 pounds but less than 2000
Count II: possession with the intent to sell cannabis
Count III: simple possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis
The jury was given the standard jury instructions on possession with intent to sell and possession. The jury found the defendant not guilty as to Count I and guilty as to Count III. The Defendant appealed stating that the jury verdicts were truly inconsistent with one another. Instructions for Count I included the following language which asked the jury to determine if the Defendant had possessed either of the following: cannabis in excess of 25 pounds, more than 20 grams but less than 25 pounds, or an amount less than 20 grams. The jury verdict on Count I found the defendant not guilty to all of the aforementioned valuations.
However, in Count III, the jury found the Defendant guilty of possession of cannabis in an amount greater than 20 grams. Count III was a lesser included offense and because of the acquittal on Count I, Defendant could not be found guilty as to Count III. Clearly the jury could not find the Defendant not guilty as to possession of cannabis in excess of 20 grams in Count I and guilty of possession of cannabis in the same amount in Count III.
The appellate court reversed Defendant’s conviction and sentence. The court’s reasoning was premised on the notion that verdicts rendered in criminal cases are required to be certain and devoid of ambiguity. Where there is a critical deficiency in the jury verdict, the court cannot try to surmise the jury’s interpretation of the applicable statute(s).
It would have been proper for the lower court to direct the jury to reconsider the verdict. The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure mandate that when a verdict is so defective that the court cannot determine whether the jury intended to acquit or convict the Defendant or if the court cannot determine what count or counts the jury intended to acquit or convict the Defendant of, the court must direct the jurors to reconsider the verdict. The court shall not accept jury verdict until it clearly and unambiguously decided. If the jury persists in rendering a defective verdict, the court must declare a mistrial.
If you want to talk to a qualified Broward County criminal lawyer about any area of criminal defense practice, do not hesitate to reach out to us directly.