On November 29, 2016, Justice Ginsburg wrote for a unanimous United State Supreme Court in the case of Juan bravo-Fernandez and Hector Martinez-Maldonado v. the United States.
A jury convicted Bravo and Martínez of bribery (18 U.S.C. 666), simultaneously acquitting them of conspiring to and traveling in interstate commerce to violate section 666. The only contested issue was whether they had violated section 666; the other elements of the acquitted charges (agreement and travel) were undisputed. The verdicts were, therefore, inconsistent. The convictions were vacated. The First Circuit held that section 666 proscribes only quid pro quo bribery, while the charge had permitted the jury to convict on a gratuity theory. On remand, the defendants moved for acquittal, arguing that the issue-preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy Clause barred retrial because the jury necessarily determined that they were not guilty under section 666 when it acquitted them of the related conspiracy and Travel Act offenses. The First Circuit and a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed denial of the motions. Double Jeopardy Clause issue preclusion does not bar retrial after a jury has returned irreconcilably inconsistent verdicts, where the convictions are later vacated for legal error unrelated to the inconsistency. The defendants bear the burden of showing that whether they violated section 666 has been “determined by a valid and final judgment of acquittal.” A conviction that contradicts their acquittals is plainly relevant to that determination, even if later overturned on appeal for unrelated legal error. A verdict of guilt is a jury decision, even if subsequently vacated.
The issue-preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy Clause bars a second contest of an issue of fact or law raised and necessarily resolved by a prior judgment. The burden is on the defendant to demonstrate that the issue he seeks to shield from reconsideration was actually decided by a prior jury’s verdict of acquittal. When the same jury returns irreconcilably inconsistent verdicts on the issue in question, a defendant cannot meet that burden. The acquittal, therefore, gains no preclusive effect regarding the count of conviction. Issue preclusion does, however, attend a jury’s verdict of acquittal if the same jury in the same proceeding fails to reach a verdict on a different count turning on the same issue of ultimate fact.
In this case, a jury convicted petitioners Bravo and Martínez of bribery in violation of 18 U. S. C. §666. Simultaneously, the jury acquitted them of conspiring to violate §666 and traveling in interstate commerce to violate §666. Because the only contested issue at trial was whether Bravo and Martínez had violated §666 (the other elements of the acquitted charges—agreement and travel—were undisputed), the jury’s verdicts were irreconcilably inconsistent. Unlike the guilty verdicts in Powell, however, petitioners’ convictions were later vacated on appeal because of error in the judge’s instructions unrelated to the verdicts’ inconsistency. In the First Circuit’s view, §666 proscribes only quid pro quo bribery, yet the charge had permitted the jury to find petitioners guilty on a gratuity theory. On remand, Bravo and Martínez moved for judgments of acquittal on the standalone §666 charges. They argued that the issue-preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy Clause barred the Government from retrying them on those charges because the jury necessarily determined that they were not guilty of violating §666 when it acquitted them of the related conspiracy and Travel Act offenses. The District Court denied the motions, and the First Circuit affirmed, holding that the eventual invalidation of petitioners’ §666 convictions did not undermine Powell‘s instruction that issue preclusion does not apply when the same jury returns logically inconsistent verdicts.