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double jeopardy

United Nations “human rights expert” suggests that compliance with international human rights norms may require casting about for some way to re-prosecute George Zimmerman since the first prosecution didn’t come out as some hoped. [Volokh] As Hans Bader points out, Article 14, Section 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights forbids, as opposed to requiring, the exposure of defendants to double jeopardy.

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As I mentioned in my CNN piece on Friday, various voices are calling for the federal prosecution of George Zimmerman following his acquittal on state-court charges [commentary about that: Jonathan Adler, Jacob Sullum, Steve Chapman, Eugene Volokh; see also the update to my Friday post regarding the possibility of "hate crime" charges] In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) takes the view that a federal prosecution would be improper double jeopardy, implicitly rebuking its own executive director, Anthony Romero, who had suggested otherwise in early comments to the press following the verdict [TalkLeft ("the organization came to its senses"), Politico, text of letter from Laura Murphy, director of ACLU Washington Office, PDF; see also David Bernstein]

As I noted in my CNN piece, the exception for “dual sovereignty” prosecutions arose in a 1959 Supreme Court case called Bartkus v. Illinois, decided 5-4, in which the dissenters were the four liberals: Earl Warren, William Douglas, Hugo Black and William Brennan. Here are a few things that Hugo Black had to say in his dissent, joined by Douglas and Warren: “Fear and abhorrence of governmental power to try people twice for the same conduct is one of the oldest ideas found in western civilization,” one that did not disappear “even in the Dark Ages.” And “retrials after acquittal have been considered particularly obnoxious, worse even, in the eyes of many, than retrials after conviction.” In short, “double prosecutions for the same offense” are “contrary to the spirit of our free country.” (& welcome Instapundit, InsiderOnline readers)

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Because the important thing is to show that lawmakers have their hearts in the right place, which means not lingering over doubts about the constitutionality of the restrictions on speech or the implied rebuke to double-jeopardy norms or the nature of the delegation of federal power to tribal courts. Who cares about that stuff anyway when there’s a message to be sent about being tough on domestic violence?

P.S. In case you wondered, the U.N. is in favor.

Hans Bader points out that a very important motivation for the pending expansion of federal hate-crimes law is to exploit a loophole the Supreme Court has created in its application of the important Constitutional principle, by exposing defendants to jeopardy a second time despite acquittal or dropping of charges in state courts.

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