California Landmark Cases on Inconsistent Verdicts (Criminal)

A special verdict is inconsistent if there is no possibility of reconciling its findings with each other. (Zagami, Inc. v. James A. Crone, Inc. (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1083, 1092 (Zagami).) If a verdict appears inconsistent, a party adversely affected should request clarification, and the court should send the jury out again to resolve the inconsistency. (Code Civ. Proc., 619; Woodcock v. Fontana Scaffolding & Equip. Co. (1968) 69 Cal.2d 452, 456 (Woodcock); Mendoza v. Club Car, Inc. (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 287, 302-303 (Mendoza).) Code of Civil Procedure section 619 states: "When the verdict is announced, if it is informal or insufficient, in not covering the issue submitted, it may be corrected by the jury under the advice of the Court, or the jury may be again sent out." An inconsistent verdict is considered "informal or insufficient" within the meaning of the statute. (Mendoza, supra, 81 Cal.App.4th at p. 302.) If no party requests clarification or an inconsistency remains after the jury returns, the trial court must interpret the verdict in light of the jury instructions and the evidence and attempt to resolve any inconsistency. (Hasson v. Ford Motor Co. (1977) 19 Cal.3d 530, 540-541, overruled on another ground in Soule v. General Motors Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 580; Woodcock, supra, 69 Cal.2d at pp. 456-457.) On appeal, we review a special verdict de novo to determine whether its findings are inconsistent. (Zagami, supra, 160 Cal.App.4th at p. 1092.) With a special verdict, unlike a general verdict or a general verdict with special findings, a reviewing court will not infer findings to support the verdict. (Ibid.; Mendoza, supra, 81 Cal.App.4th at pp. 302-303.) " ' "Where the findings are contradictory on material issues, and the correct determination of such issues is necessary to sustain the judgment, the inconsistency is reversible error." ' " (City of San Diego v. D.R. Horton San Diego Housing Co., Inc. (2005) 126 Cal.App.4th 668, 682.) "The appellate court is not permitted to choose between inconsistent answers. " (Ibid.) The proper remedy for an inconsistent special verdict is a new trial. (Shaw v. Hughes Aircraft Co. (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 1336, 1344.)