On March 16, 2023, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Union County case of State v. Macchia. The principal issue before the Court under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-13 was whether a unanimous verdict rejecting self-defense was sufficient to sustain defendant’s conviction for reckless manslaughter, or whether the jury was also required to unanimously agree as to why it rejected the self-defense claim.
Justice Wainer Apter wrote for the Court in relevant part: Our holding that unanimity was not required as to why self-defense was rejected in this case is consistent with the approach of every other court to have considered the question. All have held that a jury need not unanimously agree on the underlying basis for rejecting self-defense; it need only unanimously agree that the prosecution disproved self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. See, e.g., Mekoshvili, 280 A.3d at 398 (holding due process requires only that the jury unanimously agree that the State disproved self-defense, even if they “disagree as to the specific reason why the crime was not justified”); People v. Mosely, 488 P.3d 1074, 1076-81 (Colo. 2021) (“The jury need not unanimously agree on the specific reason that self-defense was disproven, so long as it unanimously agrees that the prosecution disproved self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.”); Rodriguez v. State, 212 S.W.3d 819, 821 (Tex. Ct. App. 2006) (“The jurors must unanimously agree that the defendant’s conduct was not justified by self-defense. It is not necessary, however, that they unanimously agree as to why.”). Further, “ordinarily, a general instruction on the requirement of unanimity suffices to instruct the jury that it must be unanimous on whatever specifications it finds to be the predicate of a guilty verdict.”
Jury unanimity is required to ensure the prosecution proves every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Without the unanimity requirement, some jurors may vote guilty based on a theory that other jurors rejected. If the other jurors vote guilty on an alternative theory, there would be a risk of a conviction even though all of the required elements were not unanimously proven beyond a reasonable doubt.