According to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, prosecutors who refuse to show any evidence at a trial due to the unavailability of witnesses will not get a chance to have a retrial.
The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari on Tuesday in a case involving Esteban Martinez, a defendant who faced charges of mob action and aggravated battery. The court ruled against the State of Illinois, which resulted in a reversal of a decision made by the Illinois Supreme Court.
In the Martinez case, the two alleged victims have failed to appear in court, despite being issued numerous subpoenas which compelled them to do so. The State had filed numerous motions for continuance while it attempted to have the victims come to court to testify in the case against Martinez. However, the judge seemingly grew tired of this and in May 2010, refused to grant any more continuances to the State. The prosecutors were given two options: they could file a motion to dismiss, or they could go ahead and have the jury sworn in anyway.
Prosecutors representing the State of Illinois have chosen another option: they would have the jury sworn, but they would not participate in the case at all. The jury was then impaneled, but the prosecution declined to make an opening statement and did not call any witnesses. The defense then clearly saw that the State was presenting absolutely no evidence that could convict Martinez and filed a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal. This motion was rapidly granted by the judge, but appealed by the State.
On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court found that Martinez never risked a conviction and therefore double jeopardy would not apply to this case. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and reverse the ruling, remarking that jeopardy attaches whenever a jury is sworn in, even if the prosecution refuses to participate in the case.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the directed verdict of acquittal in the Martinez case was indeed a valid one, as it found that the evidence presented in the case is not sufficient to allow for a conviction.
If instead of refusing to participate in the case, the prosecution had filed a motion to dismiss, the U.S. Supreme Court said that there would have been no bar to obtaining a retrial against the defendant, as the jury wouldn’t have been sworn in, which would make the double jeopardy clause inapplicable.
Patrick Donovan is a criminal defense attorney in Boston, Massachusetts. Prior to opening his private law practice Attorney Donovan was an assistant district attorney in Quincy, Massachusetts. Attorney Donovan has appeated in over fifty courts in Massachusetts. Attorney Donovan handles felony and misdemeanor charges. Call today for a free consultation.