United States v. Benedict – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In United States v. Benedict, 95 F.3d 17 (8th Cir. 1996), a single defendant case, the court held that the jury should not have been instructed to announce partial verdicts on three counts before it ended its deliberation on a remaining closely related conspiracy count.

The jury had been deliberating for seven hours when it sent a note saying it had reached verdicts on three counts but was undecided on the last count. Over the defendant's objection, the court decided to take partial verdicts on the three decided counts and return the jury to deliberate further on the remaining count.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit held it was error and an abuse of discretion for the district court to take partial verdicts when the jury "had reached tentative agreement on three of the four counts, all implications were that the jury was making progress towards unanimity on the undecided charge," the jury was not deadlocked, neither party requested a partial verdict, the jury was not informed that announcing a partial decision would render those decisions final, and the remaining conspiracy count was closely related to the other three substantive offenses. (95 F.3d at 19-20.)

The Court observed:

The danger inherent in taking a partial verdict is the premature conversion of a tentative jury vote into an irrevocable one. . . . It is improper for a trial court to intrude on the jury's deliberative process in such a way as to cut short its opportunity to fully consider the evidence. Such an intrusion would deprive the defendant of "the very real benefit of reconsideration and change of mind or heart." (95 F.3d at 19.)