Earlier this week, we began a discussion about a recent U.S. Supreme Court case and its implications for future accused persons. Specifically, the holding in the case affects the protection from double jeopardy for those who are forced to mount a criminal defense.
As we wrote in our last post, the case before the Supreme Court involved a man who was charged in the death of a baby under four separate homicide theories. While the jury determined that he was not guilty under the two most severe theories, it deadlocked on the lesser counts and the judge declared a mistrial.
The Supreme Court supported the prosecution's argument that the man may be tried again under all four theories. In a 6-3 vote, the Court determined that this kind of repeat prosecution does not constitute double jeopardy.
The Court's reasoning is largely technical and will affect future prosecutions, although not likely in great number. The majority held that because the jury continued to deliberate even after reporting that it had determined the man was not guilty under the two most severe theories, it had not truly reached a final conclusion when it delivered that initial report.
As a result, the defendant's de facto acquittal on the two most severe charges was not "final" enough in nature because the jury returned to deliberate after its report had been delivered to the Court. The dissenting judges fervently disagreed, insisting that allowing the man to be re-tried on counts for which he had already been acquitted constitutes double jeopardy.
The complicated and technical nature of this case highlights how important it is that the criminally accused be represented by competent and experienced counsel. Even the slightest technical issues can result in the retrial of cases, admission of improperly damaging evidence or other problematic consequences.
Source: New York Times, "Justices Allow Retrial on Rejected Charges," Adam Liptak, May 24, 2012