Double JeopardyPosted by on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
We live in a society where the law affects nearly every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, much of what we think we know about the law is actually a myth or misconception.
I thought we lived in a society where you could not be tried for the same crime twice. I thought, technically, that was illegal according to the Constitution. Unfortunately, much of what we think we know about the law is not accurate. We are only protected against this in certain circumstances, and mistrials make everything convoluted. The above quote is from the amazon.com description of Michael Cicchini’s book, “But, They Didn’t Read Me My Rights!: Myths, Oddities, and Lies About Our Legal System.” Michael is a defense attorney, and if I am ever accused of a crime, I am going to wish that I lived in the Kenosha, Wisconsin area so that he could represent me.
Anyway, the Supreme Court of the United States recently decided that people could be retried on the same charges even if they were rejected by a jury that was later deadlocked. The story is not completely cut and dried, but the details go like this: In 2007, a 1-year old boy suffered a head injury and died while in the care of his mother’s boyfriend, Alex Blueford.
Mr. Blueford was charged under four theories, in decreasing order of seriousness: capital murder (though the state did not seek the death penalty), first-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide.
The jurors were instructed to consider the most serious charge first and move to the next only if they unanimously agreed that Mr. Blueford was not guilty. In this way, they were to work their way down to the appropriate conviction, or to an acquittal.
After a few hours of deliberation, the jurors announced that they were deadlocked. The forewoman told the judge that the jury had unanimously agreed that Mr. Blueford was not guilty of capital or first-degree murder, but she said it was divided, 9 to 3, in favor of guilt on the manslaughter charge.
The jury deliberated for an additional half-hour but could not reach a verdict. The court declared a mistrial.
Prosecutors sought to retry Mr. Blueford on all four charges. His lawyers agreed that he could be retried on the less serious ones but said double jeopardy principles should preclude his retrial on the charges of capital murder and first-degree murder.
It turns out that the Supreme Court agreed with the prosecutors in this case even though the jury wasn’t divided until the first two (most serious) charges were thrown out. This seems outrageous to me. First of all, I’m no legal expert, and maybe I should write Mr. Cicchini first, but why is it OK to be charged with all of those crimes when only one incident occurred? Shouldn’t the state have to pick a charge and choose a jury to see if it sticks? Why can they charge you with four things and hope one of them sticks? I suppose this is common place, but I didn’t know about it, and I don’t like it. Secondly, before the jury got stuck, they at least had decided that he should not be charged with capital or first-degree murder. Why should another jury have to decide the same thing?
But, the SCOTUS sees it differently.
Mr. Blueford’s lawyers also argued that the trial judge should not have declared a mistrial without first asking the jury whether, in the end, the defendant had been found not guilty of some charges. Chief Justice Roberts said the judge had acted appropriately, as “the jury’s options in this case were limited to two: either convict on one of the offenses, or acquit on all.”
It is scary indeed when you have to convict on one charge or acquit on all when only one incident occurred that could have either been a crime or an accident. Why does a person have to dodge four bullets for one supposed crime? Not only that, he has to now dodge four more as he will most-likely be retried on all of these charges. At least the SCOTUS was not unanimous in this decision:
In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the majority had improperly given prosecutors “the proverbial second bite at the apple.”
“The forewoman’s announcement in open court that the jury was ‘unanimous against’ conviction on capital and first-degree murder,” she wrote, “was an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes.”
Giving prosecutors the second bite of the apple should be illegal. I thought it was. The sad thing is that most people will probably agree with this decision. We are too obsessed with safety and catching the bad guys that we think having someone’s Constitutional rights violated is a small price to pay to possibly convict someone who committed a crime.
*Note — Some of the links in this article have been updated/changed from their original sources. The current links should work, but may not be as relevant as the originals, which were removed by their owners.
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