U.S. Justices to decide if wrongly acquitted defendant can be retried

By Kimberly Atkins

Dolan Media Newswires

BOSTON, MA--The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the Double Jeopardy Clause bars retrial where a trial judge erroneously held a particular fact to be an element of the charged offense and then granted the defendant's mid-trial motion for a directed verdict because the prosecution failed to prove that fact.

The case involves Lamar Evans, who was charged with arson under Michigan state law for burning down a vacant building. During his trial, the judge erroneously ruled that the prosecution was required to present proof that the burned house was not a dwelling, which is not a required element of the state statute.

Based on the erroneously-added element to the offense, the court granted defendant's motion for a directed verdict and entered an order of acquittal, dismissing the case.

The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, holding that an actual acquittal occurs, for double jeopardy purposes, only when the trial court's action is a resolution of a factual element necessary for a criminal conviction. Because in the instant case the court hadn't resolved such a factual element, double-jeopardy principles did not bar retrial.

The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed.

"Because of the trial court's legal error, no factual elements of the charged offense were considered, and as a result the people have not been afforded the opportunity to have their case reviewed for the sufficiency of the evidence on the factual elements even once," the court ruled. "Permitting retrial ... does not frustrate the prohibition against double jeopardy."

The Supreme Court will rule on the case next term.

U.S. Supreme Court. Evans v. Michigan, No. 11-1327.Certiorari granted: June 11, 2012.

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Published: Mon, Jun 18, 2012