Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Court: Double Jeopardy Bars Appeal of Enhancement
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
The Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause bars the government from appealing a district court’s denial of a sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
Writing for the panel, Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain said that while the Double Jeopardy Clause is generally inapplicable to sentencing proceedings, the court must “look behind the labels to the constitutional commands governing the treatment of sentencing enhancements that increase the statutory maximum to which the defendant would otherwise be exposed.”
To do otherwise would be to exalt form over substance, he wrote.
The appeal stemmed from Dominique Blanton’s jury conviction in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(g)(1). The indictment against Blanton, who was arrested in Los Angeles in April 2003, also included a sentencing enhancement charge under the Armed Career Criminal Act that he committed his offense after having sustained at least three prior violent felony convictions.
Blanton had previously been convicted of two counts of robbery with an enhancement for the use of a firearm, pled no contest to a charge of voluntary manslaughter, with a firearm enhancement, and pled guilty to assault with a deadly weapon.
In a non-jury trial on the enhancement charge—the guilt and sentencing phases of his trial were bifurcated pursuant to his request—Senior U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi acquitted Blanton on the ground that two of his prior convictions were non-jury juvenile adjudications and thus did not qualify as predicate offenses for the purpose of an enhancement under the act. The government appealed the ruling, alleging that Takasugi erred in denying the enhancement.
Blanton argued the government’s appeal was barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment because remanding to district court for further proceedings following his acquittal would expose him to jeopardy a second time.
The government contended, however, that the Double Jeopardy provision did not apply because no factual questions relating to Blanton’s guilt or innocence on the enhancement charge were resolved in his favor at trial.
Rejecting the government’s position, the panel found that Takasugi’s ruling was directly related to guilt or innocence, thus implicating double jeopardy.
“[T]he district court’s conclusion—that there was insufficient evidence to support an ACCA enhancement—squarely addressed whether the government proved an element of the ACCA offense…,” O’Scannlain wrote.
He noted that even if Takasugi’s interpretation of the act was faulty, making his judgment of acquittal based on legal error, jeopardy attached to the judgment because the determinative question is whether he found the evidence legally insufficient to sustain a conviction.
Judges Alex Kozinski and Jay S. Bybee concurred in the opinion.
The case was decided without oral argument. Briefs were authored by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas P. O’Brien and Erik M. Silber for the prosecution and by Deputy Public Defender Carlton F. Gunn for the defendant.
The case is United States v. Blanton, 05-50302.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company