Gravel v. State

In Gravel v. State, 499 P.2d 1022 (Alaska 1972), the jury returned inconsistent verdicts finding the defendant guilty of both the charged crime and a lesser included crime. The trial judge refused to accept the verdict forms, and provided the jury with new forms. He asked the jury to continue deliberating, and instructed it to "read the verdict forms carefully." Later, the jurors returned a consistent verdict, but when polled, two of the jurors announced that they disagreed with the verdict. For a third time, the judge sent the jury back to deliberate. The jury again returned a consistent verdict, and, when polled, each juror agreed with the verdict. Gravel appealed, claiming that the conviction should be reversed because of the initial inconsistent verdicts. The supreme court rejected this claim because the trial judge had not accepted the inconsistent verdicts. The supreme court approved "the action of the court in this case because the trial court has the duty to assure that the jury reaches a decision that can be legally accepted as a verdict, if at all possible." The court explained that the first two attempts of the jury "did not result in legally valid verdicts. Until the court accepted the third ... verdict there was, neither in law or in fact, a verdict." The Gravel court acknowledged that it was "conceivable" that a procedure like the one the judge used in Gravel could prejudice the rights of a criminal defendant if "undue influence were exerted" by the trial court.