4

Say a murder is committed. The DA indicts someone, who is tried, and found not guilty by a jury of his peers.

Is it possible that after some more police investigations, the DA can then indict a second suspect?

If so, would it still be possible if suspect 1 had been convicted?

I'm trying to ascertain the boundaries around something that isn't exactly double jeopardy but looks like it: the idea that you can't have two trials for the same offense. I realize it makes sense to indict two persons for the same murder: if me and my friend kill my wife together, we've both committed murder. But it's not the same thing here: it's not an act that suspects 1 and 2 are alledged to have committed together, it's one and only act that they're separately accused of committing alone.

Could the state indict an infinite series of citizens for the same offense? Even if prior indictments resulted in conviction?

2 Answers 2

7

Scenario 1: If a person is acquitted of an offence, and evidence later shows that someone else committed it instead then there's nothing in law preventing that second person being prosecuted - assuming all the relevant conditions are met.

Scenario 2: If a person has been convicted of an offence, but evidence later shows that someone else may have committed it (independently and in isolation rather than as a co-conspiritor), then in all likelihood the former defendant may have grounds for an appeal on the basis that they have suffered a miscarriage of justice. One option is for their case to be reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission who may refer the case back to the court to determine whether the conviction should be quashed in light of new and compelling evidence.

Scenario 3: "Infinite" indictments are theoretically possible (in as much as infinity is possible) but only if there is enough evidence against each and every person to justify them being indicted. If prior indictments resulted in convictions, then loop back to Scenario 2.

4

At least in the U.S. there is no Constitutional bar to such a later indictment of a second accused, and I am not aware of any statutory bar either.

Indeed such second indictments and trials of a second accused person have happened, and have led to convictions. Most often this happens after the initial accused has been exonerated, either at the initial trial or in a later proceeding. But I know of no law mandating this.

It is possible to imagine a case in which two people, who are not accomplices, are both guilty of the same crime. For instance, If Smith and Jones both shot at Fletcher at essentially the same moment, without a common design or agreement, and each inflicted a fatal wound. Or if Smith administered poison to Fletcher, and later Jones shot Fletcher, inflicting a wound that might not have been fatal but for the poison. In such a case a conviction of Smith would not, I think, prevent a later indictment and conviction of Jones.

However, I know of no such case outside of fiction. I believe I recall a Perry Mason novel with something like this idea.

In a more realistic case, a proceeding against and conviction of one person for a crime almost surely involves evidence that should secure the exoneration of anyone previously convicted of the same crime. But such exoneration will not be automatic, as I understand things.

4
  • That is the key, the prior person is exonerated. This happens all the time with old cases and DNA evidence where the technology didn't exist when the case was tried. However the idea of it happening infinitely...perhaps if the killer is an expert at framing people, each new crime tied to past crimes yet different people framed.
    – rtaft
    May 23 at 14:43
  • 2
    But is there any requirement that the prior accused be exonerated? I don't know of any. And while i k now of no formal limit on the number of indictments for a single crime, I knpow of no actual case where there have been more than two. May 23 at 16:26
  • @DavidSiegel: If Smith is convicted of some crime, and then the DA indicts Doe for the same crime, shouldn't the Doe indictment be useful to Smith for some form of post-conviction relief? I would tend to imagine that there ought to be some sort of procedural mechanism for Smith to go before a judge and say (basically) "By indicting Doe, the state has conceded that I didn't do it."
    – Kevin
    May 23 at 20:10
  • @Kevin In many cases, that would of course follow logically. So far as I know, there is no procedure specific to that fact pattern, and such an indictment would not automatically exonerate Smith. Smith can at any time file a petition for his conviction to be reconsidered, and any new evidence or conclusions in such an indictment could be cited in such a petition. If the state alleges that Doe was Smith's accomplice, of course that does not help Smith. It might be possible that the two independently committed the same crime. If Smith an Doe each shot Roe they might both be guilty. May 23 at 20:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.