Justices Hammer Illinois Over Double Jeopardy
WASHINGTON (CN) - "There is simply no doubt" that double jeopardy bars retrying an alleged mob-action assailant after Illinois was not ready to present any witnesses the first time, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Illinois had indicted Esteban Martinez in August 2006 on charges of aggravated battery and mob action. Martinez and his counsel succeeded in delaying the trial for nearly four years, according to the ruling.
In summer 2009, the state indicated that it had not located the two complaining witnesses against Martinez, and its subpoenas failed to produce the witnesses over the course of several court-granted continuances.
These witnesses still did not appear after the jury had been chosen on May 17, 2010.
Noting that both witnesses are convicted felons, and that their whereabouts are thus likely known by the Elgin Police Department, the trial court denied the state yet another continuance.
Illinois had included 10 other names on its witness list, but it said after the jury was sworn in that it could not participate in the case.
The court then issued a directed not-guilty verdict, and the prosecution appealed the denied continuance.
Noting that he had been acquitted, Martinez challenged the appeal as improper.
The Illinois Appellate Court and the state Supreme Court allowed the state's appeal, however, on the basis that jeopardy never attached since Martinez "was never at risk of conviction."
The U.S. Supreme Court summarily granted Martinez a writ of certiorari and reversed Tuesday, calling the allowed appeal "manifestly" erroneous.
"Our cases have repeatedly stated the bright-line rule that 'jeopardy attaches when the jury is empaneled and sworn,'" the unsigned opinion states. "There is simply no doubt that Martinez was subjected to jeopardy. And because the trial court found the state's evidence insufficient to sustain a conviction, there is equally no doubt that Martinez may not be retried."
Later the opinion states: "We have never suggested the exception perceived by the Illinois Supreme Court - that jeopardy may not have attached where, under the circumstances of a particular case, the defendant was not genuinely at risk of conviction. Martinez was subjected to jeopardy because the jury in his case was sworn.
The justices also emphasized the possibility that Illinois had to dismiss its case before the jury was sworn.
"Had the state accepted that invitation, the double jeopardy clause would not have barred it from recharging Martinez," the opinion concludes. "Instead, the state participated in the selection of jurors and did not ask for dismissal before the jury was sworn. When the state declined to dismiss its case, it '"took a chance[,] ... enter[ing] upon the trial ofthe case without sufficient evidence to convict."' Here, the state knew, or should have known, that an acquittal forever bars the retrial of the defendant when it occurs after jeopardy has attached. The Illinois Supreme Court's holding is understandable, given the significant consequence of the state's mistake, but it runs directly counter to our precedents and to the protection conferred by the double jeopardy clause."