Inconsistent Prosecution
February 14, 2008 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Prosecuting someone for a crime that someone has already been convicted of?

I read last year about a prosector who sought to convict someone of a crime, when he had already convicted someone else of the same crime. Logically, only one person could be guilty. I can't find anything on Google. Does anyone remember this incident I am referring to?
posted by yesno to Law & Government (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What was the crime? Where was this? That would help us narrow it down.
posted by desjardins at 2:51 PM on February 14, 2008

Couldn't the crime have been committed by more than one person?
posted by flaneuse at 2:54 PM on February 14, 2008

That kind of thing has happened many times, usually because new evidence shows up which exonerates the first person who was convicted, by showing who really committed the crime. However, that doesn't seem to be what you're talking about.

It's not the case that "logically only one person could be guilty". It depends on the crime and the applicable law. There is, for instance, "felony murder".

As I understand it, it goes like this: George and Harry make a plan to hold up a convenience store. George goes inside with a gun, and Harry waits outside in the getaway car. George ends up shooting and killing the clerk.

Obviously George should be prosecuted for murder. But under the principle of Felony Murder, it turns out that Harry can be prosecuted for murder, too, even though he wasn't present when the shot was fired and didn't intend for anyone to get shot. (See this for a much more comprehensive example.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:04 PM on February 14, 2008

What's the question? Are you looking for a reference to that crime? Legal process?
posted by bitdamaged at 3:10 PM on February 14, 2008

I read last year about a prosector who sought to convict someone of a crime, when he had already convicted someone else of the same crime.

Yes, I remember the case you are talking about. Essentially, the prosecutor's argument boiled down to, "We have very strong evidence against both of the defendants, sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that each committed this crime, and if I can convince two juries of the guilt of each, the fact that two people are being convicted of the same crime is not my problem."

I thought I remembered reading that the prosecutor's stratagem got him/her soundly spanked by an appellate court.
posted by jayder at 3:25 PM on February 14, 2008

That does sound strange, because the evidence used in each of those trials should have represented sufficient demonstration of "reasonable doubt" for the other trial, and should have resulted in acquittals all around.

If this is what the OP is talking about, them like alkupe I didn't correctly respond to the question.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:48 PM on February 14, 2008

I can't help except to say that I am 100% this was an episode of Law and Order. This was McCoy's brazen strategy. They had two defendants both accused of the crime and while both were there, only one pulled the trigger; the defendant's lawyer severed the trials so that each could claim reasonable doubt because the other guy could have done it. So the DA's simultaneously argued that both were the sole perpetrator. I would guess I saw this maybe five years ago.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:37 PM on February 14, 2008

Totally allowed. Prosecutor might have an ethical duty to work to have the other conviction overturned, because the prosecutor's duty is to seek justice, not a conviction.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:40 PM on February 14, 2008

> I can't help except to say that I am 100% this was an episode of Law and Order.

Similarly (and while I know TV is not the great educator, researchers on these shows tend not to make glaring errors in procedure), an episode of Close To Home used the premise of charging and trying multiple suspects for the same crime separately.
posted by benzo8 at 5:36 PM on February 14, 2008

As a point of clarification, I am not talking about a situation where it is legally possible for more than one person to be guilty of the "same" crime, as in felony murder or some kind of accomplice liability.

And I believe that the prosecutor got the trial court judge to exclude the evidence of the previous conviction, which is why the second jury reached a guilty verdict.

Also, I am trying to think of a particular case that got some publicity-- I'm not wondering whether such a situation is possible.
posted by yesno at 5:46 PM on February 14, 2008

I just saw a story about a case where an older woman confessed to a crime and I think she and another person were convicted. Several years later there convincing proof that a different person did it - he was convicted and the others let go free. I'm pretty sure this was a real situation (probably court tv) and not a fictional case but all I can say for sure was that it was tv in past 48 hours. (i was reading ask mefi and balancing the checkbook at the same time so I wasn't paying that much attention)
posted by metahawk at 6:37 PM on February 14, 2008

There's an issue in the Chicago area where the DuPage County State's Attorney proceeded to re-prosecute a guy for the THIRD TIME, even after someone else admitted to the crime. Just because his office had developed a good enough case.

Google joe birkett and rolando cruz for more info.
posted by gjc at 7:42 PM on February 14, 2008

Perhaps you are thinking of Bradshaw v. Stumpf?

This case, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court, involved the prosecution of Stumpf for aggravated murder committed in the course of an armed robbery. Stumpf maintained throughout the case that he was not the shooter, but only participated in the robbery at the behest of his accomplice Wesley, and that Wesley was the shooter. Stumpf pled guilty to aggravated murder, in return for the prosecution dropping other charges, and he pled guilty to one of three capital-offense qualifiers that the State had sought, in return for the State dropping the other two. The one capital-offense qualifier to which he pled guilty, left him eligible for the death penalty, so there was a contested sentencing hearing. At that hearing, in seeking the death penalty for Stumpf, the State of Ohio argued that he was the shooter. Stumpf presented numerous mitigating factors at his sentencing hearing, and the State of Ohio argued that the court should reject these mitigators based on the fact that Stumpf was the shooter. Agreeing with the State, the three-judge panel presiding over the sentencing hearing found Stumpf to be the shooter. He was sentenced to death.

Later, the State of Ohio prosecuted Stumpf's accomplice Wesley for the same murder, and at Wesley's trial, argued that Wesley was the shooter, a theory that directly contradicted the position that the State took at Stumpf's sentencing hearing.

Stumpf then sought to withdraw his guilty plea, a motion denied by the Ohio state courts. The federal district court denied his motion for habeas corpus relief. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court, concluding, in part, that the inconsistent prosecution theories required that Stumpf's conviction be reversed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the Sixth Circuit, for consideration of how the prosecution's inconsistent theories may have influenced the sentencing panel's decision to sentence Stumpf to death.
posted by jayder at 9:55 PM on February 14, 2008

« Older Should I buy a house with an ~old roof?   |   Renova, retinol---need prescription or will OTC... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.