Facts of the Case
After the State of Michigan rested its case at petitioner Evans’ arson trial, the court granted Evans’ motion for 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 State Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for retrial. In affirming, the State Supreme 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.
“Yes. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in an 8-1 opinion, reversed the lower court’s decision and held that the Double Jeopardy Clause under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars Evans’ retrial. Even though the trial judge arrived at his ruling by erroneously adding a statutory element, Evans was acquitted for double jeopardy purposes. In general, any ruling based on the prosecution’s failure to establish criminal liability will result in an acquittal. However, the Court distinguishes between an acquittal granted for substantive purposes and one granted for procedural purposes. When determining whether double jeopardy applies, only an acquittal based on the culpability of the defendant will conclude the proceedings entirely. If the acquittal is merely procedural and unrelated to the factual guilt or innocence of the defendant, there is no expectation that double jeopardy will bar further proceedings. The Court held that the trial court’s acquittal factually resolved whether Evans was guilty or not