The state of Maryland has adopted the law of double jeopardy, as set forth in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Essentially, the law protects citizens from being tried twice for the same crime. It is important to understand that double jeopardy is not a defense to the merits of a criminal case, but instead it is considered a “plea in bar” to prevent a trial from ever taking place. Courts have addressed the issue of double jeopardy in many criminal cases and have identified when it may be invoked and the extent of the legal protection. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is critical that you are aware of any and all defenses or legal protections available. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney would be able to assess your case to provide a strong defense to the charges brought.
In a recent Maryland case, the state brought charges against Wayne Warren, Jr., alleging the sexual abuse of a minor, shortly after he had already been tried and convicted on two of eight charges of the same crime. After the first case was resolved in 2014, the state discovered new photographic evidence in a storage facility, allegedly establishing the sexual abuse of a minor. The state decided to bring another action against him, using this new evidence, which had never been used against him. The new indictment, presented three months after the guilty verdicts were handed down at the first trial, included four counts, each charging precisely the same crime: sexual abuse of a minor.
Warren was convicted on all four counts of the new indictment. He appealed on double jeopardy grounds. The court of appeals reviewed two main issues: 1) at which point in a criminal proceeding does double jeopardy attach; and 2) what is the scope of the jeopardy that attaches? Regarding the first question, the court concluded that under Maryland law, jeopardy “attaches” in a jury trial at the moment that the jury takes the oath. This has been described as an integral part of the constitutional guarantee against double jeopardy.
As for the scope of jeopardy, courts have routinely held that it is not measured by the evidence offered or by any arguments made, but instead it is measured by the words of the indictment or criminal information. Essentially, the scope of jeopardy is a function of the pleading. According to the court, a main purpose of the charging document is to satisfy the constitutional guarantee that a person charged with a crime be informed of the accusation against him or her.
After reviewing the charges in the earlier indictment as compared with the second set of charges, as well as relevant case law and the intent and breadth of the sexual child abuse statute at issue, the court concluded that the defendant should not have been placed in jeopardy a second time for the same conduct. The new evidence – the retrieved images – was deemed part of the “atmosphere” at the time of the first trial. The court pointed out that the “modality” of the proof of the behavior was incidental and may not be used against the defendant at the second trial. Accordingly, the court found the second trial should have been constitutionally barred.
This case nicely illustrates the importance of understanding the intricacies of defending against a criminal case, as well as protecting a citizen from a trial in the first instance. An experienced criminal defense attorney would be able to provide you guidance in any aspect of your case. Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases in Maryland. Our office can work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
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