When Does “Double Jeopardy” Bar Multiple Convictions for the Same Actions?
In criminal law, there is a constitutional rule against “double jeopardy.” As expressed in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, this rule states no person may be “subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Of course, there are some important caveats to this rule.
First, for certain crimes you may be tried separately by the state and federal government, as they are considered separate “sovereign” entities. Second, a given criminal act may violate multiple separate statutes, and you can be tried and convicted of each separately without necessarily running afoul of double jeopardy.
Court Reverses “Travel After Solicitation” Conviction Based on Defective Charging Document
That said, the Florida Supreme Court has also made it clear that the law cannot punish a person twice for the “same conduct.” If multiple criminal offenses arise from the same act, they must be based on “separate elements.” In other words, if you are charged with Crime A and Crime B based on the same conduct, the elements of Crime B must be totally distinct from Crime A.
This issue has come up a number of times in recent years in sex crime cases. Just recently, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal addressed it. In this case, federal agents conducted a sting operation to catch individuals interested in illegally soliciting sex with minors. Here, the agents posted a Craigslist ad with contact information for a woman who was purportedly interested in arranging sexual encounters with her 13-year-old daughter.
The defendant here responded to the advertisements and started communicating with the “mother,” who in reality was a federal agent. Two days after the initial response, the defendant and the agent setup a meeting in Key West to meet the non-existent daughter. When the defendant arrived at the meeting point, Key West police arrested him.
Florida prosecutors charged the defendant with violating two state laws. The first charge was using a computer service to “solicit the parent of a child” to consent to that child engaging in “unlawful sexual activity.” The second charge was traveling to meet the child for sexual activity following solicitation. A jury found the defendant guilty of both charges. The judge sentenced the defendant to five years in prison on the solicitation charge and two years for the travel after solicitation offense.
But the Third District reversed the travel after solicitation conviction on double jeopardy grounds. Noting the Florida Supreme Court had recently addressed a similar case, the Third District explained that the “statutory elements of solicitation are entirely subsumed by the statutory elements of traveling after solicitation.” This means double jeopardy applies unless the state charges the defendant based on “separate and distinct” acts.
Here, the evidence presented at trial actually did establish separate acts. The defendant and the agent exchanged “solicitation” emails on two separate days, and the “travel after solicitation” occurred on the second day. But according to the Florida Supreme Court, when determining if double jeopardy applies, the trial court is bound to look only at the “charging document,” not the evidence. And in this case, the charging document did not make it clear that “the solicitation forming the basis of each charge is a separate and distinct act.” The travel after solicitation conviction was therefore barred under double jeopardy.
Speak with a Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
When you are facing multiple charges arising from the same act or incident, it is critical to work with an experienced Miami criminal defense attorney who will make sure prosecutors follow the rules. Contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos if you need advice or assistance today.