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Evans v. Michigan, 568 U.S. _____ (2013)

After the State of Michigan rested its case at Evans' arson trial, the court granted a directed verdict of acquittal, concluding that the state had failed to prove that the burned building was not a dwelling, a fact the court mistakenly believed was an "element" of the statutory offense. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for retrial. In affirming, the state's highest court held that a directed verdict based on an error of law that did not resolve a factual element of the charged offense was not an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes. The Supreme Court reversed; the Double Jeopardy Clause bars retrial. An acquittal encompasses any ruling that the prosecution's proof is insufficient to establish criminal liability for an offense. Unlike procedural rulings, which lead to dismissals or mistrials on a basis unrelated to factual guilt or innocence, acquittals are substantive rulings that conclude proceedings absolutely, and raise significant double jeopardy concerns. The trial court clearly evaluated the state's evidence and determined that it was legally insufficient to sustain a conviction. The acquittal was the product of an erroneous interpretation of governing legal principles, but that error affects only the accuracy of the determination to acquit, not its essential character.

 

Read Opinion here at supremecourt.gov

 

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