On February 21, the Supreme Court unanimously decided McElrath v. Georgia, holding that a jury’s verdict that the defendant was not guilty by reason of insanity of malice murder constituted an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes notwithstanding any inconsistency with the jury’s other verdicts.

McElrath concerned the case of Damian McElrath, who in 2017 was tried for malice murder, aggravated assault, and felony murder Under Georgia Law, in a case where a defendant is claiming insanity at the time of the crime, the jury can render one of four possible verdicts: Guilty, Guilty but Mentally Ill, Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, or Not Guilty. The jury rendered a split verdict, finding McElrath not guilty by reason of insanity on the malice murder charge and guilty but mentally ill on the felony murder and aggravated assault charges. McElrath challenged his guilty but mentally ill conviction as repugnant to his acquittals. The Georgia Supreme Court, instead of overturning his conviction, vacated both the conviction and the acquittal and remanded the case for a retrial. McElrath then filed a plea in bar asserting that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution prohibited the State from subjecting him to a second trial on the malice murder charge. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in November of 2023.
Please join us for a post-decision Courthouse steps program where we will break down and analyze this recent decision concerning double jeopardy and criminal law.

Featuring: Zack Smith, Legal Fellow and Manager, Supreme Court and Appellate Advocacy Program, The Heritage Foundation

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