Case Name: Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 90 S. CT. 1189, 25 L. ED. 2d 469 (1970)
Issue: Can a defendant who has already been acquitted for committing a crime be tried by the court for another crime based on similar course of events as the first criminal offence?
Facts: One early morning of 10th January 1960, six men were carrying out a poker game in the basement of John Gladson’s home. Suddenly about 3-4 men, armed with a shotgun and pistols broke into the basement and robbed the poker game players and fled using one of the cars belonging to the poker game players. Subsequently, three men were arrested in the morning after being found near the stolen car which had by then been abandoned. Ashe was however arrested further away from the others. When he stood trial, he was acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence to implicate him for the robbery. However, the prosecution sought to trial him again on account of the same robbery but by another victim of the dawn robbery. Asha’s defense filed a motion seeking to dismiss the trail as it was based on the initial acquittal.
Holding: No. Based on Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, it is prohibited for a defendant charged with criminal activities to be tried twice for the same charges. This means that the defendant is actually put into jeopardy. Indeed, there is no chance for the defendant to be retried for the same offence nonce the prosecutor drops the initial charges or the defendant is released by the court for innocence. The double jeopardy rule is meant to protect defendants from being retried for similar offences once acquitted. Nevertheless, there is room for civil suits to be imposed on the defendants. In this case, it was impermissible for Asha to be retried for similar criminal offense as the initial one. Therefore, the initial court verdict was reversed by the appeal court and reprimanded.
Dissent: According to Justice Burger, the complainant in the second trial of Asha had changed dramatically compared to the one in the first trial. This meant that there was a change of parties to the trial; a crucial requirement of double jeopardy. This argument was also supported by Justice Brennan who noted that the case was squarely under the double jeopardy rule. Therefore, there was no way a second trial would be undertaken.
Discussion: According to double jeopardy rule, subsequent prosecution is prohibited on people charged with criminal offences. The case against Asha was very weak during the first trial. Therefore, it collapsed and Asha was acquitted. The prosecutor tried to build a stronger case in the second trial having realized his weaknesses in the first trail. Consequently, the prosecutor enjoyed an unfair advantage over the defendant in the second trail. Nevertheless, the existence of the clause on double jeopardy would protect the defendant from the unfair advantage enjoyed by the prosecutor.
Opinion: I agree with the appeal court’s reversal of the ruling and even the reprimand made. The matter in this case shows an attempt to unfairly convict the defendant of an offence that he did not commit. Furthermore, the prosecutor is trying to take advantage of the situation to the detriment of the defendant based on the ruling from the first trial. A second trial based on the same offense is not permissible as in the first trail the prosecutor failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty.
Policy: The applying public policy issue here is on the concept of double jeopardy to protect defendants from undergoing subsequent trials on similar offences.
Case Name: United States v. Freed, 401 U.S. 601, 91 S. Ct 1112, 28 L. Ed. 2d 356 (1971).
Is a statute imposing criminal liability for possession of unregistered weapons unconstitutional for not considering whether a defendant is aware of the registration requirement and not giving the due process?
The defendant, Freed alongside other defendants had been inducted for possessing hand grenades considered unregistered in hence violating the federal law making it illegal for a person to possess or receive a firearm not registered under their name. In his defense, Freed argued that he was not aware of such a legal requirement to register the grenade and that he actually did not intend to violate the specific law. Nevertheless, the district court dismissed Freed’s indictment arguing that there was violation of due process by not alleging scienter for the crime. An appeal was immediately launched by the government.
No. There was no violation of the due process. Imposition of the criminal liability for possessing unregistered firearm by any individual does not seek to know whether a person is aware of the legal requirement to register or not.
It is a prohibition of the federal law for a person to possess a firearm not registered under their name. The statute is actually made with the consideration of the best interests of the public and ensures their safety at all times. Furthermore, it is premised that possession of hand grenade cannot be treated as an innocent and safe activity in itself. It is expected for a reasonable person to suspect that it is illegal to possess a hand grenade. There is therefore no expectation of intent pertaining to the statute and innocence cannot be accorded. The mere knowledge by the defendant that he possessed the unregistered grenade sustains a conviction.
Reversal of the initial ruling
Justice Brennan concurred with an argument that ‘mens rea rule’ was not an exception and applied to Anglo-American law. The rule is universal and persistent. Moreover, to discard the mens rea rule required a clear congressional intent.
Often, it is the duty of the court to distinguish between activities that are obviously unlawful based on reasonable judgment by the citizens and those that do not. For instance, a law criminalizing presence of a person in Los Angeles for a period of over 5 days without registration for individuals convicted of felony is unconstitutional as there is no apparent unlawful action. Indeed, for a person to be in Los Angeles more than five days there is no reasonable harm to warrant an indictment.
I agree with the reversal of the district court’s ruling. There is no innocence in not knowing that having an unregistered grenade is illegal. The defendant was reasonable enough to exercise judgment that possessing a grenade exposed immense danger to him and the public. Thus defense on unawareness of the legal requirement cannot hold.
The public safety concern is upheld in this case. Possession of firearm under which a person is not registered can lead to immense harm on the public especially if the firearms are used for criminal activities. Ignorance of legal requirement on obvious issues cannot amount to sustainable defense.
Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 90 S. Ct. 1189, 25L. Ed. 2d 469 (1970). Bloomberg Law.
Cornell University Law School. Double Jeopardy. Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, Open Access to Law since 1992.
Harvard Law Review. Fifth Amendment-Double Jeopardy Clause- Second Circuit Refuses to Review District Court’s Acquittal of Defendants Charged with Violating Permanent Injunction.- United States v. Lynch, 181 F. 3d 330 (1999). Harvard Law Review, 113.5(2000):1252-57.
United States v. Freed, 401 U.S. 601, 91 S. Ct. 1112, 28L/ Ed. 2d 356 (1971).