Supreme Court Weighs Limit On Double Jeopardy
The Supreme Court appeared inclined Tuesday to rule that a criminal defendant cannot be tried again after a judge acquits him midway through a trial, even if the judge bases his decision on a legal error. The justices seemed willing during argument at the high court to endorse the idea that a judge’s decision to acquit a defendant is no different than a jury verdict in that both are final.
The issue arises in the case of a Michigan man accused of setting fire to a vacant house. The judge stopped the jury trial and acquitted defendant Lamar Evans based on a mistaken reading of the law under which Evans was charged.
Michigan appellate courts said Evans could be retried.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits protects people from being tried twice for the same offense. The Michigan courts said the amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause did not apply to Evans because the judge’s mistake means he was not truly acquitted. But several justices said they were reluctant to adopt the Michigan courts’ reasoning that Evans should not benefit from a legal windfall because of the judge’s mistake.