Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Britain's "double jeopardy" reform

Between CSI-Las Vegas, -Miami, -wherever, and CBS’s “Cold Case” series, a whole lot of attention have been brought to DNA evidence and reviving “cold cases” across the country. Persons wrongfully convicted can be cleared & returned to society, and sometimes new evidence connects persons already in prison with additional offenses. Police departments everywhere contact the FBI’s crime lab for support in troubling cases, and many, such as the Kentucky and Indiana State Police have full-time units.

Funding for cold case investigations is also sometimes available through federal grants.

But what if the reverse happens? What if I really did kill “Joe,” but was found me not guilty… and then three, five – ten years later, new evidence comes up proving I did, in fact, do it? Used to be it didn’t make much difference.

“Double jeopardy,” right? I’m saved….. Not necessarily. There are exceptions to the 5th. Amendment haven many think is all-inclusive. Wikipedia, for example, explains that “second trials held after a mistrial does not violate the double jeopardy clause, because a mistrial ends a trial prematurely without a judgment of guilty or not guilty; and cases which have been dismissed because of insufficient evidence may constitute a final judgment for these purposes, although many state & federal laws allow for limited prosecutorial appeals from these orders.”

Then there’s Great Britain.

In 1989 William Dunlop was arrested and tried twice for the murder of an ex-girlfriend; both times having a jury unable to reach a verdict. He was acquitted in 1991. In prison on an unrelated assault charge, he confessed to his former girlfriend’s murder to prison officials, but at the time could only be prosecuted for perjury and was given an additional six years. That was in 2000.

In April 2005 England and Wales abolished the whole 800-year-old concept. Dunlop’s case was reopened, and, in light of his confession to prison officials, this time he was found guilty of the murder. It was the first case brought up under the new reform which affects only England and Wales, not neighboring Scotland. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct.1st..

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