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Supreme Court hears arguments on criminal procedure issues

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in two cases Tuesday. In Smith v. United States [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court heard arguments on the burden of proof in conspiracy cases. At issue is a jury instruction that allowed jurors to assume that the defendants did not abandon the conspiracy unless the defendants positively demonstrated that this was the case. The jurors convicted the defendants based on the fact that they had been members of the group during a time that was barred by statute of limitations. The attorney for the defendants, Calvin Smith and John Raynor, argued to the court that the doctrine of withdrawal from a conspiracy should control over the issue. "It's the statute of limitations that is the defense in the case. It's the doctrine of withdrawal that triggers—that is the triggering event for the statute of limitations, which sets the date for when the statute of limitations starts to run. Withdrawal in and of itself is not a defense. It's the statute of limitations that's the defense." The Solicitor General argued that the Due Process clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] "does not require the government to disprove withdrawal outside the limitations period, because lack of withdrawal is not an element of the crime of conspiracy."

The court also heard arguments in Evans v. Michigan [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on whether double jeopardy [Cornell LII backgrounder] attaches after a trial judge erroneously holds a particular fact to be an element of the offense and then grants a midtrial directed verdict of acquittal because the prosecution failed to prove that fact. An attorney for Lamar Evans argued that precedent dictates a judge's determination of not guilty is a final determination of an acquittal where double jeopardy is concerned, even if the judge commits errors of law or fact. The state of Michigan argued that, historically, this was the type of situation the double jeopardy clause was designed to prevent:

The Jeopardy Clause is aimed at prohibiting certain governmental abuses that occurred historically. 12 One of them is when the government would terminate a trial that was not going well, without the consent of the defendant, in order to take another shot at it, to build a better case or perhaps get a better factfinder; and the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits that kind of conduct by establishing through this Court's cases that mistrials without the consent of the defendant bar retrial; that abhorrent practice is barred unless a manifest necessity is shown. ... But if there is consent, as there was in this case—the defendant asked the judge to terminate the trial without going to this jury, so he gave up his valued right to a decision by this tribunal—if he does that, then that—the other side of that coin is, that is ordinarily outcome-determinative the other way. A retrial is permissible unless the government has achieved the first harm by the back door, that is by goading the defendant into the mistrial.
The Solicitor General also argued in support of the state of Michigan.

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