Articles Tagged with Double Jeopardy

A Will County, Illinois man whose conviction on charges of predatory sexual assault was overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court, lost on his bid to have the re-trial on those same charges dismissed due to concerns that the prosecution violated his right against double jeopardy.

Double Jeopardy in Illinois Sexual Assault Case

In People v. Ventsias, the defendant was convicted of one count of predatory sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 11 years in prison; he was acquitted on one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. The Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction due to a finding of juror bias, and ordered the defendant to stand trial again on the predatory sexual assault charge only.

Prior to the start of the new trial in 2012, the defendant agreed to a plea agreement whereby he would plead guilty to the charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse – the charge which the jury had initially acquitted him of committing – in exchange for the prosecution not pursuing the predatory sexual assault charge.

Following the defendant’s entry of the guilty plea, the prosecution moved to vacate the plea due to concerns raised by the trial court that the plea may have been invalid due to double jeopardy concerns. Namely, the court was not convinced that Ventsias could waive his right to plead guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse, since he had already been acquitted.

The prosecution then moved for a second trial on the charge of predatory sexual assault of a child. Ventsias objected and filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that double jeopardy attached due to the prosecution’s prior agreement to no longer pursue the charge.

When Double Jeopardy Attaches in Illinois Criminal Cases

In a previous blog I discussed a recent United States Supreme Court case, Martinez v. Illinois, in which the court ruled an Illinois defendant could not be retried because double jeopardy attached. In that case, the prosecution refused to participate in the trial, and the trial court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the dismissal, citing the long-held rule that “jeopardy attaches when the jury is sworn in.”

Like Martinez, the jury in People v. Ventsias was sworn in. Why, then, did double jeopardy not attach to Ventsias, when it did in Martinez?

Because there are exceptions to when double jeopardy attaches.

If the defendant’s conviction is overturned on appeal, the prosecution is generally free to re-prosecute the case. This is because, unless the reversal was due to insufficient evidence proving guilt, the reversal is usually due to some error made during the trial, whether the admission of inadmissible evidence or some other violation of criminal procedure that interfered with the defendant’s ability to obtain a fair trial. In these cases, although technically the defendant is being retried for the same crime, the first trial is considered null and void because the parties involved did not play by the rules.

In Ventsias, the defendant’s acquittal was overturned on appeal due to juror bias, and not because the appellate court found insufficient evidence of his guilt. So although the jury had been sworn in, double jeopardy did not attach.

Ventsias argued that double jeopardy attached when the prosecution agreed not to re-file the predatory criminal sexual assault charges. Therefore, even though the plea agreement was dismissed, according to Ventsias the prosecution could not re-try him for predatory criminal sexual assault.

The appellate court dismissed Ventsias argument, stating that the basis for the plea agreement was unconstitutional. According to the court, double jeopardy is a right so fundamental to our criminal justice system, that a defendant cannot waive it. Therefore, because his waiver was unconstitutional, the prosecution was not bound by its earlier agreement to not re-prosecute Ventsias for predatory criminal sexual assault.

It remains to be seen whether the defendant will appeal the court’s decision, and whether, if accepted, the Illinois Supreme Court would rule on whether a defendant can waive his right to double jeopardy.

Criminal laws are in place to protect the rights of the accused. While the state cannot infringe upon those rights, the defendant should have the right to waive them if, pursuant to his attorney’s advice, it is in his best interest to do so.

In this case, a conviction on a charge of aggravated sexual abuse carries a maximum prison term of seven years – four years less than what Ventsias had been sentenced to under the predatory sexual assault charge. So it was in Ventsias’ best interest to waive his double jeopardy protection and plead guilty to the lesser charge, even if he had already been acquitted. It does not seem right that the court can take that away from a defendant.  Continue reading

Illinois Supreme Court Decision Overturned in Double Jeopardy Case

The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously this month that the Illinois Supreme Court “manifestly erred” when it ordered the retrial of a criminal defendant on charges of aggravated battery and mob action. The retrial, the Court found, would have violated the defendant’s right to be free from double jeopardy.

The rule against double jeopardy is one of the cornerstones of criminal defense. The United States and Illinois Constitutions both provide criminal defendants explicit protection against double jeopardy.

Section 10 of the Illinois Constitution states that “No person shall be . . .twice put in jeopardy for the same offense.” This means that once a criminal defendant has been acquitted (found not guilty) of a crime, he cannot be retried – even if evidence is later uncovered that affirms his guilt.

In Crist v. Bretz,the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “jeopardy attaches when the jury is empaneled and sworn.” Because U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding constitutional issues also apply to state laws, this rule applies to Illinois criminal cases,

It is a very clear rule that the Supreme Court has consistently applied time and again. Yet in Martinez, both the Illinois Appellate and Supreme Courts failed to get it right.

Martinez v. Illinois

In 2006, the defendant was arrested and charged with aggravated battery and mob action against two victims. After numerous continuances by the prosecution to try and locate the victims, who were the main witnesses, and delays due to Martinez and his defense attorney, the trial was eventually scheduled to begin in May 2010 (Martinez obviously waived his constitutional right to a speedy trial).

On the day of trial, the victims still could not be located. The trial judge refused to grant any more continuances, but offered to postpone the starting time of the trial to later in the day, and to issue subpoenas for their arrest. The prosecution denied both offers and indicated that it would not participate in the case. The jury was sworn in, and the prosecution refused to give opening statements or call any witnesses. The trial judge then granted the defendant’s motion for a directed finding of not guilty, which means the defense attorney requested that the defendant be acquitted since the prosecution, in failing to put on any evidence, had no case against him.

The prosecution appealed, and the defendant argued that double jeopardy applied. His argument was rejected by both the Illinois Appellate and Supreme Courts, who ruled that because the state had put on no evidence, he was in no real danger of ever being found guilty during the first trial.

Martinez then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling based on his petition alone. The rule stated above – that double jeopardy attaches the moment the jury is sworn in – is so clear, the Court had no desire to hear oral arguments on the issue.

Double jeopardy does not apply in all cases. The defendant may be retried if there is a mistrial, or if the prosecution seeks a dismissal. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that in this case, the trial judge offered to dismiss the case, which would have allowed the prosecution to retry Martinez if the victims could be located. The prosecutor failed to take the court up on this offer. Continue reading