Criminal appeals are often looked at as a chance for a defendant to reverse a guilty verdict or unfavorable pretrial decision, however appeals can work both ways. Prosecutors commonly appeal pretrial rulings to a higher court in order to improve their chances of a successful result at trial. In certain circumstances, prosecutors can even appeal dismissals or acquittals of criminal charges, although double jeopardy may come into play if a jury had been impaneled prior to a state’s appeal.
Earlier this year, one of my blogs discussed the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen on firearm prosecutions in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Court had reversed a man’s firearm convictions and instructed the trial court to enter orders of dismissal for the charges against him. After this first opinion and ruling were issued, the State asked the Court to reconsider their ruling, and a supplemental opinion was released in September of 2023.
The defendant was initially convicted of carrying a firearm, carrying a loaded firearm, and carrying ammunition without a license. However, an appeal revealed that, according to the recent Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, the absence of a license is a crucial element for these crimes. As the trial judge failed to instruct the jury on this requirement, the convictions were overturned, and the Commonwealth was prohibited from retrying the defendant. The Commonwealth sought reconsideration, arguing that the rule in Bruen did not exist during the defendant’s original trial. The court agreed, stating that double jeopardy doesn’t apply because the Commonwealth didn’t need to present evidence of lack of licensure under the previous legal framework, and a retrial is permissible.