Hudson v. Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40 (1981)

Tracy Lee Hudson was convicted of murder by a Louisiana jury. Although the trial judge questioned the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury’s verdict, under Louisiana law he could neither direct a verdict nor acquit the defendant. Hudson’s only means of challenging the sufficiency of the evidence was to move for a new trial. The trial judge granted Hudson’s motion, saying: ‘‘I heard the same evidence the jury did[;] I’m convinced that there was no evidence, certainly not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, to sustain the verdict of the homicide committed by this defendant of this particular victim.’’ The new trial resulted in a conviction. Hudson claimed that the second trial constituted double jeopardy.

Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. wrote the unanimous opinion, clarifying the meaning of double jeopardy and articulating the rule that protection against a second trial attaches when the first trial concludes with a judicial finding of insufficient evidence.

Louisiana claimed that an earlier decision, Burks v. Unites States (1978), applied when a reviewing court found there was no evidence to support a conviction, but not when there was insufficient evidence. The state also argued Hudson’s case was distinct from Burks because it was the trial judge who found a failure of evidence, rather than the reviewing court. The Supreme Court rejected Louisiana’s arguments, quoting the judge’s statement to show he had not merely acted as a ‘‘13th juror.’’

Hudson establishes that a defendant cannot be retried after a trial judge finds the first conviction to be unsupported by evidence.

SARA FAHERTY

Cases and Statutes Cited

See also Double Jeopardy

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