Recently, a state appellate court issued a decision in a defendant’s motion to dismiss a Massachusetts gun charge. The Commonwealth charged the defendant with a weapons charge in violation of § 10(n), but it did not charge him with the predicate offenses of § 10(a) or (c). A district judge dismissed the case because of a defect in charging, and the Commonwealth filed a second complaint based on the same conduct. The defendant moved to dismiss the case based on a violation of Double Jeopardy principles.
The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment mandates that a “person cannot twice be put in jeopardy for the same offense.” The rights create protections against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal and conviction. Additionally, it protects defendants from multiple punishments for the same offense. The law also bars retrials of defendants whose initial trial ends without a conviction, except in cases where the court declares a mistrial because of “manifest necessity.” Courts reviewing double jeopardy claims generally consider four factors, judicial estoppel, attachment, the character of the terminating order, and whether a mistrial occurred.
Judicial estoppel prevents parties from taking a position in a case that is contrary to their position in earlier proceedings. In this case, the court found that the motion judge was incorrect in finding that the defendant was estopped from arguing for dismissal based on the Fifth Amendment. Next, in reviewing attachment, the court must determine whether jeopardy attached in the first proceeding. The court found that case law has long made clear that jeopardy attaches when a jury is empaneled and sworn. Therefore, here, jeopardy attached in the first proceeding at that point. The court then reviews whether the termination was based on an acquittal or procedural. Here, the termination was procedural and did not constitute an acquittal; therefore, the inquiry moves to whether the judge declared a mistrial. In this case, the defendant did not consent to prosecution, and he did not invite a mistrial. The court found that judicial estoppel should not preclude the defendant’s fifth amendment claim. Moreover, because there was no manifest necessity for a mistrial, the court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds.