Monday, August 13, 2007

Double Jeopardy and the Rule Against Multiple Prosecutions

Your client is charged with petty theft and commercial burglary. In the course of preparing for the case, you find out that the charges are a result of a series of acts committed by him in two neighboring counties. You also find out that the same charges were brought against him by both counties and he already pleaded guilty in one of the counties. The question you are confronted with is this: if he pleads guilty in the second county, would there be any issues related to double jeopardy or prohibition against multiple prosecution. After all, the charges were brought in both counties as a result of a series of interrelated acts committed by him culminating in the so-called 'offense.' If there is any substance to the rules against double jeopardy and multiple prosecution, it seems fairness requires dismissal of the case in the second county. But the law is not very clear on this issue. While Kellett v. Superior Court (1966) 63 Cal2d 822, bars multiple prosecutions, it does not require that offenses committed at different times and at different places be prosecuted in a single proceeding. People v. Carpenter (1999) 21 Cal4th 1016. Looking at the federal double jeopardy jurisprudence, the answer to the question is even less clear. See Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 169. For example, when a defendant is accused of the crime of joyriding, can the defendant be punished for each separate period of joyriding involving the same automobile? If the defendant joyrides for a total of 5 days, can separate punishments be imposed for each day? For each hour? For each minute? It all largely depends on the "unit of prosecution" that is identified in the statute (implicitly or explicitly). Basically, the courts will have to determine what the legislature intended when it defined the scope of the crime. If the legislature intended each day of joyriding to be treated as a separate crime, then there is no double jeopardy bar to imposing separate punishments for each day. What if the legislative intent is not clear? Then the defendant's case will depend on the judge and the common practice in the given court, or county. It would seem, the double jeopardy prohibition as a constitutional right were to be given more expansive and clear interpretation. Moreover, common sense sometimes suggests the basic answer to the basic question when the law does not offer a clear response.

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