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When D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell Canan asked for the verdict in a 2004 firearm-violation case, he got an unusual response from the jury foreman: “Guilty technically, with an addendum.” Canan’s attempts to explain there was no such thing as “technical guilt” may have confused jurors into believing they couldn’t change their verdict to not guilty during further deliberations. At least that’s what the D.C. Court of Appeals said Nov. 9 when it reversed the conviction of Alvin Headspeth, who was arrested by D.C. police during a commotion outside the 2003 homecoming football game at Cardozo High School. At trial, Headspeth testified that someone placed a gun in his unlocked car and he put it under his daughter’s car seat because he wasn’t going to tell police “there’s a gun while all the fighting was going on.” On two other firearms charges, the jury deadlocked or found Headspeth not guilty. But on a misdemeanor charge of possession of an unregistered firearm, the jury foreman said, “The jury unanimously agrees the defendant technically violated the law,” but several jurors “believe he did not violate it in spirit.” At that point, “the fundamental unanimity of the jury on the guilty verdict . . . had been called into question,” the appeals court ruled. When two jurors then expressed reservations in open court about the guilty verdict, Canan should have granted a mistrial on the charge, the appellate opinion states. After the jury repeatedly requested a light sentence for Headspeth, Canan also failed to remind the jury near the end of the trial that its recommendation was not binding on the court, the opinion states. Still, Canan wound up sentencing Headspeth to just one year of supervised probation.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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