Supreme Court says severing charges does not violate Double Jeopardy
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Supreme Court says severing charges does not violate Double Jeopardy

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in Currier v. Virginia [docket] on Friday that a defendant indicted on multiple charges who agrees to have each charge tried separately gives up his right to benefit from an acquittal in the first trial.

Virginia man Michael Currier faced trial [JURIST report] for breaking and entering and grand larceny. While he was acquitted on these charges, he was further charged with possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony resulting from the facts of the same crime he was previously acquitted. Currier argued that the issue preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy [text] clause of the Fifth Amendment barred it. Nonetheless, the case was allowed to proceed, and he was convicted. The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction, reasoning that although courts are divided over whether issue preclusion applies when a severance of charges has occurred, in this case, it was to protect one from undue prejudice. On Friday the Supreme Court agreed.

The court held that because Currier consented to a severance, his trial and conviction did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority, “[t]his Court’s teachings are consistent and plain: the ‘Clause, which guards against Government oppression, does not relieve a defendant from the consequences of his voluntary choice.'”

Gorsuch also wrote that civil issue preclusion principles are not meant for criminal law via the Double Jeopardy Clause, in Part III of his opinion which only Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined:

While the growing number of criminal offenses in our statute books may be cause for concern, no one should expect (or want) judges to revise the Constitution to address every social problem they happen to perceive. The proper authorities, the States and Congress, are empowered to adopt new laws or rules experimenting with issue or claim preclusion in criminal cases if they wish. In fact, some states have already done so. On these matters, the Constitution dictates no answers but entrusts them to a self-governing people to resolve.