There are a great many things that can be changed or altered in a criminal case. The prosecution and the defense can ask the court to amend or reverse many decisions made previously. One situation in which that isn’t true is a judgment of acquittal for insufficient evidence. Once the judge in your case makes that decision, it is the equivalent of a “not guilty” verdict, and the Constitution’s prohibition against double jeopardy means that you can no longer be convicted of that crime. This hard-and-fast rule proved to be the key to a Maryland man escaping an assault charge for an altercation at a Prince George’s County supermarket, as decided recently by the Court of Special Appeals.
The man, Marcus Butler, was arrested (along with another man, Kenneth Vance) in relation to an incident at the Giant supermarket in Hyattsville. During the incident, in which certain groceries were allegedly stolen from the store, a store security guard confronted Butler and asked for a receipt. Butler then yelled at the guard and threatened him. When the guard saw what he believed to be a sharp object, he ran inside the store and called police.
Police officers eventually stopped the two men and found various grocery items and a folding knife. The state charged the two men with six crimes: a theft crime, second-degree assault, and four robbery crimes. During his post-trial motions, Butler asked the trial judge to enter a judgment of acquittal on all charges. The judge agreed and ordered Butler’s acquittal on all charges. Lawyers for both sides continued having discussions with the judge, but the judge re-affirmed his decision to grant Butler’s motion on all six charges.
After this, the prosecutor immediately made an additional argument related to the assault crime. The judge responded by saying, “I’m sorry. You’re right. There was sufficient evidence that there was an assault.” So, in the end, Vance was acquitted on all charges, but Butler received eight years after being found guilty on the assault charge.
Butler appealed, and he won. His argument on appeal was that what the trial court did, in initially granting the motion for acquittal, was the equivalent of a “not guilty” verdict. By then going back and subsequently finding him guilty, the court violated his constitutional protection against double jeopardy. The appeals court agreed. Maryland law is clear that, once a court finds you “not guilty,” that is final and cannot be reversed, not even if the verdict is “based on a mistake of law or a mistake of fact.”
In Butler’s case, the trial judge announced in court –- twice –- that he was granting Butler’s motion for acquittal on all of the charges, due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Even though he caught and corrected himself regarding the assault charge (which had a different proof requirement) almost immediately after the second announcement, that simply didn’t matter. The law absolutely doesn’t allow a judge to change his mind once he’s made a ruling of acquittal due to the insufficiency of the evidence.
If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, you need zealous representation on your side. Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has the skill, experience, and determination to help you present your defense and protect your constitutional rights. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Maryland Judge’s Declaration Without Defendant Present Prevents Retrial on Drug Charge, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Sept. 21, 2016
Mistrials, Double Jeopardy, and Maryland Criminal Cases, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Aug. 7, 2016