A source tells of a case in Albany County where the judges came up with different decisions because of their differing perspectives on how double jeopardy applied to a situation.
David M was charged with 1st degree criminal robbery and put on trial. According to our expert, 1st degree robbery is robbery using a deadly weapon. During the trial, there was no evidence to prove that M was armed with the knife that he allegedly used. Therefore, he appealed to the Court to drop the charge. The Court did not. However, it said that it would open to the jury the possibility that M was guilty only of 2nd degree and 3rd degree robbery. These are lesser offenses with lighter sentences. The jury however still could not decide if M was guilty of these.
The Court then decided on a retrial with a different jury. The same thing happened. When it became clear that there was not enough evidence to prove that M was guilty of 1st degree robbery, he again appealed to the Court to drop the criminal charge. The Court declined the appeal but told M and the prosecutor that it would advise the jury to consider 2nd degree and 3rd degree robbery instead. M did not ask for an explanation and seemed to accept the Court’s decision.
The Court then told the jury that although M was accused of 1st degree murder, they should not concern themselves with this accusation but instead consider if he was guilty of 2nd degree or 3rd degree robbery. In the end, the jury voted to find M guilty of 2nd degree robbery. M appealed for a retrial on the grounds of double jeopardy.
According to reports, the Appellate Court came up with two decisions on this matter. The first was to approve the decision of the Trial Court during the 2nd trial. Our report confirms that by virtue of double jeopardy, M could not be tried again of 1st degree robbery because it had been proven in the 1st trial that he was innocent of it.
The Trial Court admitted that the retrial exposed M to the greater risk of being charged with 1st degree robbery a second time and that this was wrong. However, because the Trial Court had clearly explained that the jury should not consider the charge of 1st degree robbery, the mistake was harmless. They did not bias the jury against M because the accusation of 1st degree robbery was glossed over. It was only mentioned when the charges were read to the jury and when the Court told them to ignore it. It did not play any part in the decision of the jury.
Justice Sweeney however voiced out a different view of the matter. He agreed that the retrial was wrong but said that it was a very harmful mistake. The question was not if it biased the jury against M but whether or not it had the possibility of making the jury biased against M. Because the jury knew that he was being accused of 1st degree robbery, Sweeney believed that it was enough to make them biased against him.
Also, M was already proven to be innocent of 1st degree robbery in the first trial. Therefore, he could no longer be accused of it in the second trial. Justice Sweeney’s decision is that the Trial Court’s decision should be reversed.