In the United States, once a defendant has been adjudicated on a charge, they cannot be tried for the same crime again. It’s an extremely important principle, but one that you may not think about that often. Like many elements of the law, it is not quite as straightforward as it might appear. For example, double jeopardy also applies to situations where someone is charged twice for the same offense when one is a lesser included offense in another. Once again, this analysis can get tricky.
Lesser Included Offenses
In criminal law, every crime has certain elements that the state needs to prove in order to convict a defendant of the crime. Someone cannot be charged under two different statutes when one of the crimes is a lesser included offense of the crime. For example, let’s say a defendant is charged and convicted for murdering a victim. They cannot then also be brought to court for attempted murder with the same victim during the same course of events. Another example would be the crime of possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. That charge requires possession of the drugs as part of the offense. Thus, a defendant cannot (usually – the law gets tricky) be convicted of both possession of drugs and possession of drugs with the intent to distribute when it is the same drugs. At first glance the case here may seem to contradict this rule, but with further inquiry the court’s reasoning behind not finding double jeopardy violations here make sense.
Florida Double Jeopardy
In this case, the defendant was tried and convicted of one count of possession of cannabis in an amount exceeding 20 grams with the intent to sell or deliver and a count of manufacturing cannabis. Both of these charges are third-degree felonies. The facts of the case are that the police searched the defendant’s house and during the search found 31 cannabis plants, and a kilogram of dried cannabis packaged in smaller bags inside a duffel bag. The defendant argued here that the convictions on both counts violated double jeopardy because all of the marijuana in his house was part of the same “criminal episode.” Therefore, the defendant believed that one of the convictions should be dismissed.
However, the Florida Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal disagreed with him. They upheld the convictions and explained that it is permissible to convict a defendant of both crimes in this situation because the legislature intended to authorize separate punishments even though the charges both arise out of the same criminal transaction. In order to come to their decision, the appeals court relied on the principle that the crime of manufacturing does not require possession of the marijuana, thus one is not a lesser included offense of another. In other words, you can be convicted of possession without having committed the crime of manufacturing, and you can be convicted of manufacturing without having committed the crime of possession. Thus, one is not a lesser included offense of the other and so double jeopardy does not apply.
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