The Double Jeopardy Clause, applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that no person may be tried more than once for the same offense. This guarantee recognizes the vast power of the sovereign, the ordeal of a criminal trial, and the injustice the criminal justice system would invite if prosecutors could treat trials as dress rehearsals until they secure the convictions they seek. At the same time, the Clause was not written or originally understood to pose an insuperable obstacle to the administration of justice in cases where there is no semblance of these types of oppressive practices.
Michael N. Currier was indicted by a single grand jury and charged with burglary, grand larceny, and possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. Before trial, the defense and prosecution agreed to sever the firearm charge from the grand larceny and burglary charges. The case proceeded to trial on the burglary and grand larceny charges, and a jury acquitted Currier of both charges. When the Commonwealth of Virginia sought to try Currier on the remaining charge of felon in possession of a firearm, he objected that collateral estoppel (issue preclusion) protections embodied in the Double Jeopardy Clause precluded his retrial. Notwithstanding his objections, Currier was tried, convicted, and sentenced. Currier filed a motion to set aside the jury verdict, and the trial court denied his motion. The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s conviction, as did the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Does a defendant who consents to the severance of multiple charges into sequential trials lose his right under the Double Jeopardy Clause to the issue-preclusive effect of an acquittal?
The Court affirmed the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in a 5-4 vote, holding that because Currier consented to a severance of the multiple charges against him, his second trial and resulting conviction, following an acquittal at his first trial, did not violate the double jeopardy clause. HOLDINGS: -If a defendant’s consent to two trials could overcome concerns lying at the historic core of the Double Jeopardy Clause, so too it had to overcome a double jeopardy complaint under the Ashe test. Nothing in judicial precedent suggested that the outcome should be different if the first trial yielded an acquittal rather than a conviction when a defendant consents to severance; -Consenting to two trials when one would have avoided a double jeopardy problem precluded any constitutional violation associated with holding a second trial because, in those circumstances, the defendant won a potential benefit and experienced none of the prosecutorial oppression the Double Jeopardy Clause existed to prevent. Thus, there was no good reason to treat Ashe double jeopardy complaints more favorably than traditional ones when a defendant consented to severance.