Facts of the Case

Provided by Oyez

In 2017, a Georgia jury found Damien McElrath guilty but mentally ill as to felony murder but not guilty by reason of insanity as to malice murder after an encounter between McElrath and his mother. The trial court did not recognize the verdicts as repugnant and accepted them, but the Georgia Supreme Court held that the verdicts were repugnant and vacated the verdicts, remanding McElrath’s case for retrial. On remand, McElrath alleged that retrial was precluded on double jeopardy grounds, but the trial court denied his motion.

On a second appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, McElrath argued that the court should have reversed rather than vacated his felony murder conviction in his previous appeal. He also challenges the trial court’s ruling on his double jeopardy claim, arguing that retrial on all of the counts is barred because the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity on the malice murder count. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the lower court.


  1. Does the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibit a second prosecution for a crime of which a defendant was previously acquitted?


  1. The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits a second prosecution for a crime of which a defendant was found by a jury to be not guilty by reason of insanity. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson authored the unanimous opinion of the Court.

    The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment protects individuals from being tried or punished more than once for the same offense, establishing that a verdict of acquittal is final and prohibits any future prosecution for the same offense. An acquittal includes any decision demonstrating the prosecution’s failure to provide sufficient evidence for criminal liability, making such a verdict inviolable and irreversible. This principle is crucial, ensuring the finality and integrity of jury verdicts in protecting defendants’ rights.

    In this case, the jury’s verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity on a malice-murder charge constitutes an acquittal, because it signifies the insufficiency of the prosecution's evidence for criminal liability. Notwithstanding Georgia law to the contrary, the determination of an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes rests on federal law, rendering the state’s characterization non-binding. The validity of an acquittal remains unaffected by the consistency of jury verdicts or any speculation about the jury's reasoning, which is consistent with the jury’s exclusive domain to decide on guilt or innocence and the Double Jeopardy Clause’s outright prohibition on multiple prosecutions for the same offense.

    Justice Samuel Alito authored a concurring opinion to clarify that the Court’s decision does not express any view about whether a not-guilty verdict that is inconsistent with a verdict on another count and is not accepted by the trial judge constitutes an “acquittal” for double jeopardy purposes.