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A second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal or conviction or multiple punishments for same offense. The evil sought to be avoided by prohibiting double jeopardy is double trial and double conviction, not necessarily double punishment.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides, "No person shall … be subject for the same offence [sic] to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." This provision, known as the Double Jeopardy Clause, prohibits state and federal governments from prosecuting individuals for the same crime on more than one occasion, or imposing more than one punishment for a single offense. Each of the 50 states offers similar protection through its own constitution, statutes, and common law.
Five policy considerations underpin the double jeopardy doctrine: (1) preventing the government from employing its superior resources to wear down and erroneously convict innocent persons; (2) protecting individuals from the financial, emotional, and social consequences of successive prosecutions; (3) preserving the finality and integrity of criminal proceedings, which would be compromised were the state allowed to arbitrarily ignore unsatisfactory outcomes; (4) restricting prosecutorial discretion over the charging process; and (5) eliminating judicial discretion to impose cumulative punishments that the legislature has not authorized.
Double jeopardy is one of the oldest legal concepts in Western civilization. In 355 B.C., Athenian statesman Demosthenes said, "[T]he law forbids the same man to be tried twice on the same issue." The Romans codified this principle in the Digest of Justinian I in A.D. 533. The principle also survived the Dark Ages (A.D. 400–1066), notwithstanding the deterioration of other Greco-Roman legal traditions, through canon law and the teachings of early Christian writers.
In England, the protection against double jeopardy was considered "a universal maxim of the common law" (United States v. Wilson, 420 U.S. 332, 340, 95 S. Ct. 1013, 1020, 43 L. Ed. 2d 232 ) and was embraced by eminent jurists Henry De Bracton (1250), Sir Edward Coke (1628), Sir Matthew Hale (1736), and Sir William Blackstone (1769). Nonetheless, the English double jeopardy doctrine was extremely narrow. It applied only to defendants who were accused of capital felonies, and only after conviction or acquittal. It did not apply to cases that had been dismissed prior to final judgment, and it was not immune from flagrant abuse by the Crown.
The American colonists, who were intimately familiar with Coke, Blackstone, and the machinations of the Crown, expanded the protection against double jeopardy, making it applicable to all crimes. Yet some perceived James Madison's original draft of the Double Jeopardy Clause as being too broad. It provided, "No person shall be subject … to more than one punishment or one trial for the same offense" (emphasis added) (United States v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435, 440, 109 S. Ct. 1892, 1897 104 L. Ed. 2d 487 ). Several House members objected to this wording, arguing that it could be misconstrued to prevent defendants from seeking a second trial on appeal following conviction. Although the Senate later amended the language to address this concern, the final version ratified by the states left other questions for judicial interpretation.
Double jeopardy litigation revolves around four central questions: (1) In what type of legal proceeding does double jeopardy protection apply? (2) When does jeopardy begin, or, in legal parlance, attach? (3) When does jeopardy terminate? (4) What constitutes successive prosecutions or punishments for the same offense? Although courts have answered the second and third questions with some clarity, they continued to struggle over the first and last.
Where Jeopardy Applies
Only certain types of legal proceedings invoke double jeopardy protection. If a particular proceeding does not place an individual in jeopardy, then subsequent proceedings against the same individual for the same conduct are not prohibited. The Fifth Amendment suggests that the protection against double jeopardy extends only to proceedings that threaten "life or limb." Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court has established that the right against double jeopardy is not limited to capital crimes or corporal punishment, but that it extends to all felonies, misdemeanors, and juvenile-delinquency adjudications, regardless of the applicable punishments.
In Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784, 89 S. Ct. 2056, 23 L. Ed. 2d 707 (1969), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal Double Jeopardy Clause is applicable to state and federal prosecutions. Prior to this ruling, an individual who was accused of violating state law could rely only on that particular state's protection against double jeopardy. Some states offered greater protection against double jeopardy than did others. The Court, relying on the doctrine of incorporation, which makes fundamental principles in the Bill of Rights applicable to the states through the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, said this was not permissible. The right against double jeopardy is so important, the Court concluded, that it must be equally conferred upon the citizens of every state. Under Benton, no state may provide its residents with less protection against double jeopardy than that offered by the federal Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court has also held that the right against double jeopardy precludes only subsequent criminal proceedings. It does not preclude ordinary civil or administrative proceedings against a person who already has been prosecuted for the same act or omission. Nor is prosecution barred by double jeopardy if it is preceded by a final civil or administrative determination on the same issue.
Courts have drawn the distinction between criminal proceedings on the one hand, and civil or administrative proceedings on the other, based on the different purposes served by each. Criminal proceedings are punitive in nature and serve two primary purposes: deterrence and retribution. Civil proceedings are more remedial; their fundamental purpose is to compensate injured persons for any losses incurred. Because civil and criminal remedies fulfill different objectives, a government may provide both for the same offense.
The multiple legal proceedings brought against O. J. (Orenthal James) Simpson in the death of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman illustrate these various objectives. The state of California prosecuted Simpson for the murders of his former wife and her friend. Despite Simpson's acquittal in the criminal case, three civil suits were filed against him by the families of the two victims. The criminal proceedings were instituted with the purpose of punishing Simpson, incarcerating him, and deterring others from similar behavior. The civil suits were intended to make the victims' families whole by compensating them with money damages for the losses they had suffered.
The distinctions between criminal and civil proceedings and between punitive and remedial remedies may appear semantic, but they raise real legal issues. Courts have recognized that civil remedies may advance punitive goals. When they do, double jeopardy questions surface. For example, a civil forfeiture or civil fine, although characterized by the legislature as remedial, becomes punitive when the value of the property seized or the amount of the fine imposed is "overwhelmingly disproportionate" to society's loss (Halper). This principle was exemplified when the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the federal government from seeking a $130,000 civil penalty against a man who previously had been sentenced to prison for the same offense of filing $585 worth of false Medicare claims (Halper). The Court concluded that the gross disparity between the fine imposed and society's economic loss reflected a punitive remedial aim.
Conversely, many courts have ruled that punitive damages awarded in civil suits are not sufficiently criminal for double jeopardy purposes when the plaintiff seeking those damages is a private party, not the state. This ruling can be best explained by noting that the Bill of Rights guarantees protection only against government action. It does not create a system of rights and remedies for disputes between private citizens, as do the laws of contracts and torts. Courts have not determined whether punitive damages recovered by the government in a civil suit would bar subsequent prosecution, nor have they agreed whether a number of administrative proceedings can be uniformly characterized as punitive or remedial. Cases involving the revocation of professional licenses, driving privileges, probation, and parole have divided courts over the purposes underlying these proceedings.
When Jeopardy Attaches
Courts have provided much clearer guidance on the question of when jeopardy attaches, or begins. This question is crucial to answer because any action taken by the government before jeopardy attaches, such as dismissal of the indictment, will not prevent later proceedings against a person for the same offense. Once jeopardy has attached, the full panoply of protection against multiple prosecutions and punishments takes hold.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that jeopardy attaches during a jury trial when the jury is empanelled. In criminal cases tried by a judge without a jury, jeopardy attaches when the first witness is sworn. Jeopardy begins in juvenile-delinquency adjudications when the court first hears evidence. If the defendant or juvenile enters a plea agreement with the prosecution, jeopardy does not attach until the court accepts the plea.
When Jeopardy Terminates
Determining when jeopardy terminates is no less important, but somewhat more complicated. Once jeopardy has terminated, the government may not hail someone into court for additional proceedings on the same matter without raising double jeopardy questions. If jeopardy does not terminate at the conclusion of one proceeding, it is said to be continue, and further criminal proceedings are permitted. Jeopardy can terminate in four instances: after acquittal; after dismissal; after a mistrial; and on appeal after conviction.
A jury's verdict of acquittal terminates jeopardy, and it may not be overturned on appeal even if it is contrary to overwhelming proof of a defendant's guilt and derived from a trial that was rife with reversible error. This elemental maxim of double jeopardy jurisprudence entrusts the jury with the power to nullify criminal prosecutions that are tainted by egregious police, prosecutorial, or judicial misconduct.
A jury also may impliedly acquit a defendant. If a jury has been instructed by the judge on the elements of a particular crime and a lesser included offense, and the jury returns a guilty verdict as to the lesser offense but is silent as to the greater one, then reprosecution for the greater offense is barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause. For example, a jury that has been instructed as to the crimes of first- and second-degree murder may impliedly acquit the defendant of first-degree murder by returning only a guilty verdict as to murder in the second degree. A not-guilty verdict as to the greater offense is inferred from the silence.
A dismissal is granted by the trial court for errors and defects that operate as an absolute barrier to prosecution. It may be entered before a jury has been impaneled, during the trial, or after a conviction. But jeopardy must attach before a dismissal implicates double jeopardy protection.
Once jeopardy attaches, a dismissal granted by the court for insufficient evidence terminates it. Such a dismissal also bars further prosecution, with one exception: The prosecution may appeal a dismissal entered after the jury has returned a guilty verdict. If the appellate court reverses the dismissal, the guilty verdict may be reinstated without necessitating a second trial. The state may not appeal a dismissal granted for lack of evidence after a case has been submitted to a jury, but before a verdict has been reached.
Reprosecution is permitted, and jeopardy continues, when the court dismisses the case on a motion by the defendant for reasons other than sufficiency of the evidence. For example, a court may dismiss a case when the defendant's right to a speedy trial <span />has been denied by prosecutorial pretrial delay. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that no double jeopardy issue is triggered when defendants obtain dismissal for reasons that are unrelated to their guilt or innocence (see United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82, 98 S. Ct. 2187, 57 L. Ed. 2d 65 ).
A mistrial is granted when it has become impracticable or impossible to finish a case. Courts typically declare a mistrial when jurors fail to reach a unanimous verdict. Like a dismissal, a mistrial that is declared at the defendant's behest will not terminate jeopardy or bar reprosecution. Nor will a mistrial preclude reprosecution when declared with the defendant's consent. Courts disagree as to whether a defendant's mere silence is tantamount to consent.
A different situation is presented when a mistrial is declared over the defendant's objection. Reprosecution is then allowed only if the mistrial resulted from "manifest necessity," a standard that is more rigorous than "reasonable necessity," and less exacting than "absolute necessity." A mistrial that could have been reasonably avoided terminates jeopardy, but jeopardy continues if a mistrial was unavoidable.
The manifest-necessity standard has been satisfied where mistrials have resulted from defective indictments, disqualified or deadlocked jurors, and procedural irregularities willfully occasioned by the defendant. Manifest necessity is never established for mistrials resulting from prosecutorial or judicial manipulation. In determining manifest necessity, courts balance the defendant's interest in finality against society's interest in a fair and just legal system.
Every defendant has the right to appeal a conviction. If the conviction is reversed on appeal for insufficient evidence, the reversal is treated as an acquittal, and further prosecution is not permitted. However, the defendant may be reprosecuted when the reversal is not based on a lack of evidence. The grounds for such a reversal include defective search warrants, unlawful seizure of evidence, and other so-called technicalities. Retrials in these instances are justified by society's interest in punishing the guilty. A defendant's countervailing interests are subordinated when a jury's verdict is overturned for reasons that are unrelated to guilt or innocence.
The interests of accused individuals are also subordinated when courts permit prosecutors to seek a more severe sentence during the retrial of a defendant whose original conviction was reversed on appeal. Courts have suggested that defendants who appeal their convictions assume the risk that a harsher sentence will be imposed during reprosecution. However, in most circumstances, courts are not permitted to impose a death sentence on a defendant during a second trial when the jury recommended life in prison during the first. The recommendation of life imprisonment is construed as an acquittal on the issue of capital punishment.
What Constitutes the Same Offense
The final question that courts must resolve in double jeopardy litigation is whether successive prosecutions or punishments are geared toward the same offense. Jeopardy may already have attached and terminated in a prior criminal proceeding, but the state may bring further criminal action against a person so long as it is not for the same offense. Courts have analyzed this question in several ways, depending on whether the state is attempting to reprosecute a defendant or to impose multiple punishments.
At common law, a single episode of criminal behavior produced only one prosecution, no matter how many wrongful acts were committed during that episode. Under current law, a proliferation of overlapping and related offenses may be prosecuted as separate crimes stemming from the same set of circumstances. For example, an individual who has stolen a car to facilitate an abduction resulting in attempted rape could be separately prosecuted and punished for auto theft, kidnapping, and molestation. This development has significantly enlarged prosecutors' discretion over the charging process.
The U.S. Supreme Court curbed this discretion in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 52 S. Ct. 180, 76 L. Ed. 306 (1932), in which it wrote that the government may prosecute an individual for more than one offense stemming from a single course of conduct only when each offense requires proof of a fact that the other offenses do not require. Blockburger requires courts to examine the elements of each offense as they are delineated by statute, without regard to the actual evidence that will be introduced at trial. The prosecution has the burden of demonstrating that within a pair or group of offenses, each has at least one mutually exclusive element. If any one offense is wholly subsumed by another, such as a lesser included offense, the two offenses are deemed to be the same, and punishment is allowed for only one.
Blockburger is the exclusive means by which courts determine whether cumulative punishments pass muster under the Double Jeopardy Clause. But courts have used several other methods to determine whether successive prosecutions apply the same offense. Collateral estoppel, which prevents the same parties from relitigating ultimate factual issues previously determined by a valid and final judgment, is one such method. In Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 90 S. Ct. 1189, 25 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1970), the U.S. Supreme Court collaterally estopped the government from prosecuting an individual for robbing one of six men during a poker game. A jury had already acquitted the defendant of robbing one of the other players. Although the second prosecution would have been permitted under Blockburger because two different victims were involved, it was disallowed because the defendant had already been declared not guilty of essentially the same crime.
The "same-transaction" analysis, which many state courts use to bar successive prosecutions, requires the prosecution to join all offenses that were committed during a continuous interval and that both share a common factual basis and display a single goal or intent. Although Justices William J. Brennan Jr., William O. Douglas, and Thurgood Marshall endorsed the same-transaction test, no federal court has ever adopted it.
State and federal courts have employed the "actual-evidence" test in order to preclude successive prosecutions for the same offense. Unlike Blockburger, which demands that courts examine the statutory elements of proof, the actual-evidence test requires courts to compare the evidence that actually has been introduced during the first trial with the evidence that the prosecution seeks to introduce at the second one. The offenses are considered to be same when the evidence that is necessary to support a conviction for one offense would be sufficient to support a conviction for the other.
Under the "same-conduct" analysis, the government is forbidden to prosecute an individual twice for the same criminal behavior, regardless of the actual evidence introduced during trial or the statutory elements of the offense. In Grady v. Corbin, 495 U.S. 508, 110 S. Ct. 2084, 109 L. Ed. 2d 548 (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court applied this analysis to prevent a prosecution for a vehicular homicide that resulted from drunk driving, when he earlier
had been convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol. The second prosecution would have been permitted had the state been able to prove the driver's negligence without proof of his intoxication. Although Grady was abandoned by the Supreme Court three years later, the same-conduct analysis is still used by state courts when they interpret their own constitutions and statutes.
The dual-sovereignty doctrine received national attention during the early 1990s, when two Los Angeles police officers were convicted in federal court for violating the civil rights of Rodney King during a brutal, videotaped beating, even though they previously had been acquitted in state court for excessive use of force (United States v. Koon, 833 F. Supp. 769 (C.D. Cal. 1993), aff'd, 34 F.3d 1416 (9th Cir. 1994), rehearing denied 45 F.3d 1303). Although many observers believed that the officers had been tried twice for the same offense, the convictions were upheld on appeal over double jeopardy objections. Under the dual-sovereignty doctrine, the appellate court ruled, a defendant who violates the laws of two sovereigns, even if by a single act, has committed two distinct offenses, punishable by both authorities.
The dual-sovereignty doctrine is designed to vindicate the interest that each sovereign claims in promoting peace and dignity within its forum, and permits state and federal governments to prosecute someone for the same behavior after either has already done so. A defendant also may be prosecuted successively by two states for the same act or omission. In Heath v. Alabama, 474 U.S. 82, 106 S. Ct. 433, 88 L. Ed. 2d 387 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that successive prosecutions by the states of Georgia and Alabama based upon the same offense did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause. In Heath, the defendant had committed murder in the state of Alabama but had taken the body to Georgia, where Georgia officials eventually found it. Both states prosecuted Heath and convicted him of murder for the same action, and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the convictions to stand.
Some limitations apply to the dual-sovereignty doctrine. Successive prosecutions by a state and one of its political subdivisions (such as a county, city, or village) are not permitted, because these entities are deemed to be one sovereign. Moreover, federal and state authorities may not achieve a second prosecution by manipulating the criminal justice system, sometimes called a "sham prosecution." Although this exception to the dual sovereignty doctrine has been cited in several cases, it is seldom invoked.
The U.S. Department of Justice has developed an internal restriction on pursuing a prosecution after state prosecution has failed. Federal prosecutors under this restriction may only pursue a second prosecution for compelling reasons, and the prosecutor must obtain prior approval from the assistant attorney general prior to bringing the prosecution. This restriction is called the "Petite policy," named after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Petite v. United States, 361 U.S. 529, 80 S. Ct. 45, 4 L. Ed. 2d 490 (1960), which involved the prosecution of an individual in two federal district courts for what amounted to the same offense. Although the Petite policy appears in the Department of Justice's manual, criminal defendants may not rely upon this restriction if a federal prosecutor fails to adhere to the department's guidelines.
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