The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Shippley on Tuesday, August 14, 2012.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Petitioner served as the “Sergeant at Arms” for a chapter of the Mongols Motorcycle Club, and his job was to ensure members were armed and ready for confrontations with rival gangs. “After a massive nationwide investigation and ‘take down’ of the club in 2008, [Petitioner] found himself facing a federal drug conspiracy charge. His chief accuser . . . a former club president, longtime felon, and sometimes federal informant, testified at trial that [Petitioner] was responsible for supplying considerable amounts of high quality cocaine for resale to retail customers.”
At the end of trial, the jury returned a general verdict finding [Petitioner] guilty of the conspiracy charge. “But in response to the court’s special interrogatories, the jury indicated that [Petitioner] had not conspired to distribute any of the drugs listed in the indictment. In effect, the jury both convicted and acquitted [Petitioner] of the charged conspiracy.” The district court ordered the jury to deliberate further, and those further deliberations quickly yielded an unambiguous guilty verdict.
Petitioner argues the district court erred and should have entered a verdict of acquittal and that the district court coerced the jury, violating his Fifth Amendment right to due process and his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The Court disagreed. A district court may work to clarify an ambiguous initial verdict at trial, long before any sentencing occurs, which is what the court did. The district court did not later interpret this ambiguity against Petitioner at sentencing. Additionally, merely asking a jury to deliberate further is not inherently coercive after the jury has reached a definitive if inconsistent verdict.