US Supreme Court Holds Double Jeopardy Bars Retrial

On May 27th, 2014, the US Supreme Court held in a criminal case that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the US Constitution bars a retrial after the prosecution failed to proceed on the day of trial because it had no witnesses present to testify against defendant.

In Martinez v Illinois, Docket No. 13-5967, the US Supreme Court addressed an appeal in a criminal case after the trial court granted defendant's motion for a directed verdict.

From the Court's opinion:

"The trial of Esteban Martinez was set to begin on May 17, 2010. His counsel was ready; the State was not. When the court swore in the jury and invited the State to present its first witness, the State declined to present any evidence. So Martinez moved for a directed not-guilty verdict, and the court granted it. The State appealed, arguing that the trial court should have granted its motion for a continuance. The question is whether the Double Jeopardy Clause bars the State's attempt to appeal in the hope of subjecting Martinez to a new trial.

The Illinois Supreme Court manifestly erred in allowing the State's appeal, on the theory that jeopardy never attached because Martinez [']was never at risk of conviction.['] 2013 IL 113475 , ¶39 , 990 N. E. 2d 215 , 224 . Our cases have repeatedly stated the bright-line rule that [']jeopardy attaches when the jury is empaneled and sworn.['] Crist v. Bretz437 U.S. 28 , 35 (1978); see infra, at 6 . 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.

We therefore grant Martinez's petition for certiorari and reverse the judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court . . ."

After introducing the case, the Court recited the facts.

"The State of Illinois indicted Martinez in August 2006 on charges of aggravated battery and mob action against Avery Binion and Demarco Scott. But Martinez's trial date did not arrive for nearly four years.

The story picks up for present purposes on July 20, 2009, when the State moved to continue an August 3 trial date because it had not located the complaining witnesses, Binion and Scott. The State subpoenaed both men four days later, and the court rescheduled Martinez's trial to September 28. But the State sought another continuance, shortly before that date, because it still had not found Binion and Scott. The court rescheduled the trial to November 9, and the State reissued subpoenas. But November 9 came and went (the court continued the case when Martinez showed up late) and the trial was eventually delayed to the following March 29. In early February, the State yet again subpoenaed Binion and Scott. When March 29 arrived, the trial court granted the State another continuance. It reset the trial date for May 17 and ordered Binion and Scott to appear in court on May 10. And the State once more issued subpoenas.

On the morning of May 17, however, Binion and Scott were again nowhere to be found. At 8:30, when the trial was set to begin, the State asked for a brief continuance. The court offered to delay swearing the jurors until a complete jury had been empaneled and told the State that it could at that point either have the jury sworn or move to dismiss its case. When Binion and Scott still had not shown up after the jury was chosen, the court offered to call the other cases on its docket so as to delay swearing the jury a bit longer. But when all these delays had run out, Binion and Scott were still nowhere in sight. The State filed a written motion for a continuance, arguing that it was [']unable to proceed['] without Binion and Scott. Tr. 7. The court denied that motion . . .

This case presents two issues. First, did jeopardy attach to Martinez? Second, if so, did the proceeding end in such a manner that the Double Jeopardy Clause bars his retrial? Our precedents clearly dictate an affirmative answer to each question . . ."

The Court's analysis of the Double Jeopardy issues followed.

"There are few if any rules of criminal procedure clearer than the rule that [']jeopardy attaches when the jury is empaneled and sworn.['] Crist437 U.S., at 35 ; see also United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co.430 U.S. 564 , 569 (1977); Serfasssupra, at 388 ; 6 W. LaFave, J. Israel, N. King, & O. Kerr, Criminal Procedure §25.1(d) (3d ed. 2007).

Our clearest exposition of this rule came in Crist, which addressed the constitutionality of a Montana statute providing that jeopardy did not attach until the swearing of the first witness. As Crist explains, [']the precise point at which jeopardy [attaches] in a jury trial might have been open to argument before this Court's decision in Downum v. United States372 U.S. 734 [(1963)],['] in which [']the Court held that the Double Jeopardy Clause prevented a second prosecution of a defendant whose first trial had ended just after the jury had been sworn and before any testimony had been taken.['] 437 U.S., at 35 . But Downum put any such argument to rest: Its holding [']necessarily pinpointed the stage in a jury trial when jeopardy attaches, and [it] has since been understood as explicit authority for the proposition that jeopardy attaches when the jury is empaneled and sworn.['] Crist supra, at 35 . . .

The functional rule adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court is not necessary to avoid unfairness to prosecutors or to the public. On the day of trial, the court was acutely aware of the significance of swearing a jury. It repeatedly delayed that act to give the State additional time to find its witnesses. It had previously granted the State a number of continuances for the same purpose. See supra, at 2 . And, critically, the court told the State on the day of trial that it could [']move to dismiss [its] case['] before the jury was sworn. Tr. 3.  Had the State accepted that invitation, the Double Jeopardy Clause would not have barred it from recharging Martinez. 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 of the case without sufficient evidence to convict.'['] Downum v. United States372 U.S. 734 , 737 (1963). 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."