I haven’t seen Ashley Judd in a number of years now, but I’ll readily admit I’ve had a secret crush on her for a long time. In 1999, she starred in a movie titled, Double Jeopardy. According to the IMDB Web site the plot line says “a woman framed for her husband’s murder suspects he is still alive; as she has already been tried for the crime, she can’t be re-prosecuted if she finds and kills him.”
I think that’s what we all think about double jeopardy; that no one can be tried for the same crime twice. So what’s with the Motion to Dismiss Counts 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13 for Violation of Double Jeopardy Clause filed by Casey Anthony?
First, we’ll have to take a look at the motions filed by the state. There’s no doubt that law enforcement and prosecutors like to throw the book at people to make some of it stick., and Casey Anthony made herself a perfect target for not only the check fraud charges, but the first-degree murder charge in the death of her daughter. It would seem like fraud convictions would be a walk in the park compared to facing execution, but there are reasons why this particular motion was filed by the defense.
Here are the three charges filed for each forged check written:
1. Fraudulent Use Of Personal Identification Information
2. Forgery Of A Check
3. Uttering A Forged Check
Another charge was thrown in for good measure:
13. Grand Theft Third Degree
The motion to dismiss states that Casey is guaranteed double jeopardy protection under the United States Constitution as well as the Florida Constitution on the grounds of duplicative charges. Her defense claims that the additional grand theft third degree charge would be tantamount to punishing her for the same crime covered in the other 12 counts. In essence, Casey’s defense team points out that under law, she should be charged for one crime by one count. The defense also claims that charging her with multiple counts for the same act prejudices her, therefore the counts should be dismissed. In other words, she should be charged once each for all three charges and it shouldn’t matter how many bad checks she wrote. That means she should have only been charged with one count of fraudulent use of personal identification information, one count of forgery of a check and one count of uttering a forged check. No matter how many checks she wrote, they should all fall under the same umbrella of charges.
According to the motion, “Miss Anthony is guaranteed double jeopardy protection by the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Sections 9 and 17 of the Florida Constitution for duplicative charges.” Let’s take a look at what the law says:
Amendment 5 – Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Florida Constitution – Article 1, Sections 9 and 17
SECTION 9. Due process.
No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, or be twice put in jeopardy for the same offense, or be compelled in any criminal matter to be a witness against oneself.
SECTION 17. Excessive punishments.
Excessive fines, cruel and unusual punishment, attainder, forfeiture of estate, indefinite imprisonment, and unreasonable detention of witnesses are forbidden. The death penalty is an authorized punishment for capital crimes designated by the legislature. The prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment, and the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, shall be construed in conformity with decisions of the United States Supreme Court which interpret the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment provided in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Any method of execution shall be allowed, unless prohibited by the United States Constitution. Methods of execution may be designated by the legislature, and a change in any method of execution may be applied retroactively. A sentence of death shall not be reduced on the basis that a method of execution is invalid. In any case in which an execution method is declared invalid, the death sentence shall remain in force until the sentence can be lawfully executed by any valid method. This section shall apply retroactively.
The double jeopardy rule of the Fifth Amendment is intended to limit abuse by the government in repeated prosecution for the same offense as a means of harassment or oppression. It is also in agreement with the common law concept ofres judicata which prevents courts from relitigating issues which have already been the subject of a final judgment. There are three essential protections included in the double jeopardy principle, which are:
- being retried for the same crime after an acquittal
- retrial after a conviction
- being punished multiple times for the same offense
Does the defense motion to dismiss those extra charges, something it sees as ancillary in nature, hold any merit? In Solem v. Helm (1983) 463 U.S. 277, a split court found that a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a seventh nonviolent felony was unconstitutional. In Solem, a bare majority of the court held a court’s proportionality analysis under the Eighth Amendment should be guided by objective criteria, including the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty; the sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction; and the sentences imposed for commission of the same crime in other jurisdictions.
In Harmelin v. Michigan (1991) 501 U.S. 957, a life sentence without possibility of parole for possessing 672 grams of cocaine was upheld. The case produced five separate opinions. While seven justices supported a proportionality review under the Eighth Amendment, only four favored application of all three factors cited in Solem. As one court has concluded, disproportionality survives; Solem does not. (McGruder v. Puckett (5th Cir.’92) 954 F.2d 313, 316.) In Harmelin, Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, determined Solem was wrongly decided and the Eighth Amendment contained no proportionality guarantee. Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices O’Connor and Souter, found the Eighth Amendment encompassed a narrow proportionality principle. In other words, the Eighth Amendment does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence. Rather, it forbids only extreme sentences that are ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the crime. Moreover, in Solem v. Helm, the court focused on the nonviolent nature of both the defendant’s current offense of uttering a ‘no account’ check (one of the most passive felonies a person could commit) and his prior offenses. The majority acknowledged a life sentence for fourth-time heroin dealers and other violent criminals would pass constitutional muster.
What all of this legalese means, in my interpretation of law, is that Casey should be tried once for each of the three charges. If she is acquitted of the first 3 charges, the case should not be allowed to proceed. On the other hand, if she is convicted of the first 3 charges, the additional charges should no longer be relevant and she should be sentenced for just those 3. I understand the logic, but is it really constitutional? Suppose she is convicted on all 13 charges. She faces a long time in prison on each separate conviction. In essence, she could be sentenced to spend her remaining years behind bars. Also, as 13 separate convictions, she would be considered an habitual offender. Could she be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole as such? I believe she could. What we have to consider is not just this case, but prior cases and the issue of extreme sentences for others beyond the State of Florida v. Casey Marie Anthony. As much as many may want the book thrown at her, in its wisdom, the court does not see prejudice. It sees a defendant and the charges against her. She has the law on her side as much as it may or may not help her.
The defense motion cited Florida Statute Section 775.021 (4), which states that, “Whoever, in the course of one criminal transaction or episode, commits an act or acts which constitute one or more separate criminal offenses, upon conviction and adjudication of guilt, shall be sentenced separately for each criminal offense; and the sentencing judge may order the sentences to be served concurrently or consecutively. For the purposes of this subsection, offenses are separate if each offense requires proof of an element that the other does not, without regard to the accusatory pleading or the proof adduced at trial.”
I read that as meaning the offenses are separate from each other. In other words, each of Amy’s forged checks are really the same crime on different dates. As such, they should be charged as one crime because the Fifth Amendment forbids multiple punishments for the same offense. In Blockburger v. U.S., 284 U.S. 299 (1932), the Supreme Court held that punishment for two statutory offenses arising out of the same criminal act or transaction does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause if ‘each provision requires proof of an additional fact which the other does not.’ Separate punishments in multiple criminal prosecution are constitutionally permissible, however, if the punishments are not based upon the same offenses. Are they the same offenses? According to Florida law (Florida Statute Section 775.021 [b]), the intent of the Legislature is to convict and sentence for each criminal offense committed in the course of one criminal episode or transaction and not to allow the principle of lenity as set forth in subsection (1) to determine legislative intent. Exceptions to this rule of construction are:
1. Offenses which require identical elements of proof.
2. Offenses which are degrees of the same offense as provided by statute.
3. Offenses which are lesser offenses the statutory elements of which are subsumed by the greater offense.
I think it’s very clear why the defense filed this motion and it’s a very good one. Let’s move on and take a look at Casey’s grand jury indictment last October.
On October 14, 2008, Casey Marie Anthony was indicted by the State of Florida on these separate charges:
1) FIRST DEGREE MURDER (CAPITAL)
2) AGGRAVATED CHILD ABUSE (F1-L9)
3) AGGRAVATED MANSLAUGHTER OF A CHILD (F1-L10)
4) PROVIDING FALSE INFORMATION TO A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER
5) PROVIDING FALSE INFORMATION TO A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER
6) PROVIDING FALSE INFORMATION TO A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER
7) PROVIDING FALSE INFORMATION TO A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER
Yes, she was charged with premeditated first-degree murder under Florida Statute 782.04:
(1)(a) The unlawful killing of a human being:
1. When perpetrated from a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or any human being
While we ponder the legality of the latest double jeopardy motion, take a look at the above indictment charges. How can a person be charged with murder and manslaughter*? Why are there four separate charges pertaining to providing false information to a law enforcement officer? Mark my words, when the murder case heats up more, we are going to see a slew of motions filed to throw out some of the charges. What will happen? It certainly is within the realm of possibility, but on the other hand, allow me to look at the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 people and was the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to the 9/11 attacks. I don’t need to go into any detail of what transpired. This is purely about the charges, the trial, and the conviction.
On August 10, 1995, Timothy McVeigh was indicted on 11 federal counts, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, use of a weapon of mass destruction, destruction by explosives and 8 counts of first-degree murder. On June 2, 1997, McVeigh was found guilty on all 11 counts of the federal indictment. He was executed by lethal injection at 7:14 a.m. on June 11, 2001, at the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
You may wonder why I chose this particular crime. To be honest, the double jeopardy motion has nothing to do with Caylee’s murder at this time. This is an entirely separate case, but I am looking at legal comparisons and how they could influence each trial, fraud and murder.
Despite killing 168 people, McVeigh was only charged with 8 murders. In my opinion, Casey Anthony will lose her Motion to Dismiss Counts 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13 for Violation of Double Jeopardy Clause. Why? If Timothy McVeigh’s attorneys used the same logic and prevailed in a similar motion to dismiss the counts by reducing the eight murder charges to one, that means out of 168 deaths he was responsible for, he would have been tried for one single murder and the entire weight of those deaths would have been reduced from 8 to 1. Would he have been sentenced to death for one murder? With Casey, it’s the same thing in my book, although the charges are not similar. I am merely making an analogy. Each forged check is a separate crime. The only charge I would consider dropping is the Grand Theft Third Degree. I think it’s extra icing on a 12-layer cake. One thing the judge may consider, and only if Casey is convicted on all counts, is to follow maximum sentencing guidelines allowed by the state, but to condense those 12 charges into 3 at sentencing. In other words, allow all of the convictions to stand, but don’t sentence each one individually. Of course, the judge should use his own discretion when deciding the imposition of concurrent or consecutive sentences and I am not concerned with that particular aspect. Regardless of what he decides, Casey will be locked away for a long time if she is convicted of these charges alone. I realize how unpopular my view will be with readers, but we must remember, when Casey stands trial on the fraud charges, she will not be convicted of anything yet and the court will not take Caylee’s death into consideration. Who else, other than Casey, would you want to spend a life in prison over stolen checks that amounted to less than $1,000?
On a final note, I think we’re all Jonesing for the fraud trial to begin. Any trial, actually, and speaking of Jonesing, wasn’t Tommy Lee Jones Ashley Judd’s costar in Double Jeopardy? Yup, he was. Too bad justice doesn’t always work the same way as it does in Hollywood. Casey Anthony’s role would have been written out of the script right after the opening credits. In the real world, that’s not the way it works.
*Amended by Maura on 2009/11/13 at 12:40 pm: According to a lawyer who comments over on Blink’s site, Florida law requires the inclusion of a lesser crime when a person is indicted for a capital offense. That’s why Casey was charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child in addition to first degree murder.
On the surface, it appears that the jurors will be allowed to convict Casey of both first degree murder (homicide with premeditation) and manslaughter (homicide without premeditation), which can’t logically both be true relative to the same homicide.
The resolution to that contradiction will be in the instructions to the jurors.
PLEASE VOTE FOR ME!