The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Gregory L. Frost
This matter comes before the Court for consideration of Defendant Daryl Lawrence's timely Motion for a New Trial (Doc. # 234) pursuant to Fed. Crim. R. 33(a) and (b)(2). On February 13, 2006, a jury found Defendant guilty of Counts One through Eight of the Indictment. (Doc # 200.) On March 3, 2006, the jury then found that Defendant was eligible for the death penalty. (Doc. #207.) The jury returned a life sentence verdict on Count Seven and a death sentence verdict on Count Eight on March 10, 2006. On that same day, this Court imposed the sentences on Counts Seven and Eight. (Doc. # 216.) Defendant now comes before this Court requesting both an evidentiary hearing on his Motion for a New Trial (Doc. # 234) and that after the hearing this Court grant him a new trial and/or sentencing in this matter on the following grounds: (1) inconsistent verdicts; (2) double jeopardy; (3) juror bias and/or misconduct; and (4) improper jury instructions.
For the reasons that follow, this Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendant's motion. (Doc. # 234.) Specifically, this Court orders that Defendant's death verdict on Count Eight is set aside on grounds of an arbitrary, inconsistent verdict, but rejects Defendant's remaining grounds for relief.
In his motion for a new trial, Defendant argues that the Court must set aside the death sentence imposed in relation to Count Eight because the jury made inconsistent findings and issued inconsistent verdicts on Counts Seven and Eight. The former count resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release, while the latter count resulted in a jury recommendation and consequent sentence of death. Defendant's argument is correct, and the Court has no choice but to set aside the sentence of death and order a new sentencing hearing on Count Eight.
In reaching this conclusion, the Court recognizes the sensitive nature of today's decision. The jury found Defendant's conduct in Count Eight punishable by death, and this Court has no doubt that many if not all of the victim's family members and friends want that sentence carried out. But today's decision, which does not foreclose a death sentence but instead sets aside the flawed death sentence for re-sentencing before a new jury, does not lessen the seriousness of Defendant's crime or the sentence the original jury recommended. The Court is also not ignorant of the suffering that additional proceedings in this case will no doubt cause.
The law is the law, however, and even the least deserving member of society is entitled to the full protections of the legal system. Thus, this Court must always be dispassionate in its application of the law, regardless of sympathy for the family and friends of the victim, not because the Court is sympathetic to any defendant, but because it is the Court's duty and privilege to strictly enforce the letter of the law without regard to the outcome in any particular case. Justice demands fairness and the principled application of the law, not decisions fueled by passion or predilection. The fundamental principles on which the criminal justice system is based would mean nothing if the Court did not protect the constitutional rights of every defendant in every case, even where any specific result might be contemptible. To conclude otherwise--to selectively enforce and protect any individual's constitutional rights--would be to diminish those rights and to diminish the very system of law to which the victim in this case so dedicated his life's work.
Guided by the foregoing principles, this Court is constrained to conclude that Defendant is entitled to a new sentencing on Count Eight. Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, a district court in its discretion "may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a); see also United States v. Hill, 157 Fed. Appx. 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing United States v. Seago, 930 F.2d 482 (6th Cir. 1991)). Defendant asserts that his circumstances meet the interest-of-justice standard in regard to Count Eight because the jury's death verdict is inconsistent with the jury's life imprisonment verdict for Count Seven. (Doc. # 234, at 11.) Although the verdicts are inconsistent, inconsistency alone is not sufficient to set side the death verdict on Count Eight. What is sufficient is that the inconsistency was a product of irrationality that requires the Court to set aside the verdict on Count Eight.
The United States Supreme Court has held that "consistency in the verdict is not necessary." Dunn v. United States, 284 U.S. 390, 393 (1932). Thus, the general rule is that "inconsistent findings in a jury verdict do not invalidate the verdict." United States v. Johnson, 223 F.3d 665, 675 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing e.g., United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 64-69 (1984)). This means that rational inconsistent verdicts on separate charges against a single defendant do not necessarily mandate correction. Getsy, 456 F.3d at 590-91 (citing Powell, 469 U.S. at 59-63). A defendant convicted by a jury on one count cannot therefore attack that conviction if it was rationally and logically inconsistent with the verdict on another count. See Powell, 469 U.S. at 57; Dunn, 284 U.S. at 393; Getsy v. Mitchell, 456 F.3d 575, 590-91 (6th Cir. 2006).
But the Sixth Circuit has held that under certain instances inconsistent verdicts may be both "scandalous and inequitable" and "constitute evidence of arbitrariness that would undermine the confidence in the quality of the [jury's] conclusion." Getsy, 456 F.3d at 587. Thus, if the inconsistencies were such to indicate that the verdict was a product of irrationality, it would have to be set aside. See Getsy, 456 F.3d at 587; United States v. Johnson, 223 F.3d 665, 675-76 (7th Cir. 2000).
One factual situation where inconsistent verdicts are arbitrary is in casesinvolving inconsistent jury verdicts between two co-defendants charged with conspiracy or participation in similar criminal contract. Getsy, 456 F.3d at 590-91. In this situation, the Supreme Court has applied the rule of consistency to set aside irreconcilable jury verdicts. Hartzel v. United States, 322 U.S. 680 (1944) (reversing a conspiracy conviction on the basis of inconsistency); Morrison v. California,291 U.S. 82, 93 (1934) (holding reversal of the conspiracy conviction of the defendant's sole alleged co-conspirator on constitutional grounds required reversal of the defendant's state conspiracy conviction). The Sixth Circuit requires the reversal of irreconcilable verdicts where one defendant is acquitted and the other convicted of a crime that necessarily requires two people to participate. Getsy, 456 F.3d at 590-92. Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit has reversed a defendant's murder-for-hire conviction and the resulting death sentence because another defendant was acquitted of the exact same charge. Id.
Defendant is therefore correct to the extent that the principles articulated in Morrison and Hartzel and subsequently followed by Getsy still apply today. However, courts only invalidate inconsistent findings in situations, such as in Getsy and as in the present case, where the inconsistency is a product of irrationality.
Here, there is no valid explanation for the jury's inconsistent findings in the present case other than complete arbitrariness. The Government unpersuasively argues that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of arbitrary factors and that any inconsistency in the jury's findings was deliberate and rational in light of an additional element that the jury had to consider when reaching the verdict for Count Eight. (Doc. # 9.)
The premise of the Government's argument is that the jury should have blatantly departed from this Court's jury instructions. The Government emphasizes the crucial difference between Count Seven and Eight, which is that in order to find Defendant guilty under Count Eight, the jury had to find that Defendant killed the victim with malice aforethought. It argues, in face of contrary jury instructions, that the jury may have logically considered the additional element and concluded that "the additional element, along with the aggravating factors were enough to sufficiently outweigh the mitigation causing the difference in the penalty verdicts." (Doc. # 253, at 8.)
Two considerations refute this argument. First, the jury instructions walked the jury through a sequential process. This Court instructed the jury at the trial phase to consider whether Defendant committed the elements of each crime, one of which was malice aforethought in Count Eight. The jury found Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of Counts Seven and Eight. At the eligibility phase, this Court then instructed the jury to determine whether eligibility factors existed, including age, intent, and at least one of two statutory aggravating factors. The jury found the existence of the age factor, the intent factor, and both statutory aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. Subsequently, at the sentencing phase, the instructions set forth the aggravating and mitigating factors. The Court specifically instructed the jury to weigh only the aggravating factors and the mitigating factors outlined in the instructions with no mention of malice aforethought or any other element of the crime, and the jury is presumed to have followed the Court's instructions. The Government's explanation of the inconsistent verdicts implicitly posits that the jury disobeyed this Court's jury instructions by improperly considering the elements of the crime at the sentencing phase. The Court therefore rejects the Government's attempt to rationalize the inconsistent verdicts.
The second consideration that refutes the Government's contention of no error is that the inconsistent verdicts can only be regarded as products of irrational findings by the jury. The jury in this case returned special findings plagued by numerous inconsistencies. For example, five jurors found that the fact that "Daryl Lawrence was raised by neither his biological mother nor father" was a mitigating factor in connection with Count Seven, while six jurors found that same fact to be ...