The following hypothetical situation is a bit grim, but it illustrates an important point. Let’s say you own a gun, and one day you are out walking with your weapon holstered. You see a few friends who haven’t seen your gun yet, so you take it out to show it off. A few moments later, a shot rings out and a bystander is struck in the leg. You are charged with recklessly handling your weapon — but since so many people were handling the weapon, the prosecution is unable to prove who fired the gun. You are acquitted of the crime.
But your case somehow isn’t over, because now the police are charging you with attempted murder. Given these circumstances, do you think the prosecution is allowed to do this?
The answer is “no,” and a recent case shows why. The story involves double jeopardy, a recognizable legal phrase that isn’t so common in the courtroom. A man was accused of reckless handling of a firearm after a 2008 shooting incident. He was acquitted of the crime shortly thereafter because the prosecution could not prove he was the shooter.
However, the man was then charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. Though he was initially convicted of these crimes, an appellate court reversed the ruling because of double jeopardy. They ruled that the acquittal of the original reckless firearm charge precluded him from being charged for murder. In other words, since he wasn’t the shooter per his original criminal charge, he couldn’t have been the shooter in the second case, and thus double jeopardy was invoked.
Source: WTOP, “Appeals court reverses Surry murder conviction,” Associated Press, Feb. 25, 2014