Double jeopardy clause prevents murder conviction

There are certain rights that the police, prosecutors and members of the criminal justice system must respect. For example, police must typically get a warrant if they wish to search a person's home. The Fifth Amendment also creates an important right: double jeopardy. Though many people in Edwardsville may not hear the term "double jeopardy" all that often, it protects someone from being convicted of the same crime more than once.

For one out-of-state man, the double jeopardy clause means that his recent conviction for attempted first-degree murder and first-degree murder had to be set aside. The reason? He had previously been acquitted of reckless handling of a firearm in the same incident.

It seems that after a fatal shooting outside of a Virginia nightclub, the man had been arrested and charged with the misdemeanor reckless handling of a firearm, accused of firing multiple shots into a parked car. When he was tried, however, there was insufficient evidence to show that he was the shooter and he was acquitted.

Prosecutors obviously thought they could later file a murder charge after they found more evidence, which they appear to have done. The problem, however, is that because he had been acquitted on lack of evidence that he was the shooter, the prosecutor could not then convict him if murder. When he was convicted, he and his criminal defense attorney appealed and a court of appeals set aside his guilty verdict.

Although some people may question this rule, it is an important protection that forms the cornerstone of our criminal justice system.

Source: The Associated Press, "Appeals court reverses Surry murder conviction," Feb. 25, 2014

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