Double Jeopardy: Part 4

by | Jun 25, 2017 | Blog, Criminal Law, Know Your Rights, New Jersey

The Court now adopts the same-elements test as the sole double-jeopardy analysis, thereby realigning New Jersey law with federal law.  The same-elements test is effortlessly applied at early stages of prosecution; it is capable of producing uniform, predictable results; and it aids defendants by reducing multiple court appearances. Rule 3:15-1(b) bars subsequent prosecutions for indictable offenses, and failure by the prosecution to properly join indictable offenses bars a subsequent prosecution. State v. Williams, 172 N.J. 361, 368 (2002). The Court omits that the test under Williams is highly discretionary and offers little protections to the accused in practice.

The Court recognizes a narrow circumstance where it is possible that neither the same-elements test nor the rule in Williams would prevent a second prosecution; if those unlikely events unfolded, the second prosecution might well be barred on joinder or fundamental fairness grounds. As a further safeguard, the Court invites the Supreme Court Committee on Criminal Practice to review the joinder rule and consider adding non-indictable offenses to it.

Because the decision establishes a new rule of law, the Court applies the new singular same-elements standard prospectively to offenses committed after the date of this opinion. In fairness to defendant, the Court conducts double-jeopardy analysis using both the same-elements test and the now-removed same-evidence test.  Application of the Blockburger same-elements test would lead to the conclusion that loitering to possess marijuana is not the same offense as possession within a school zone.  Each offense contains at least one element not required to prove the other. Under the same-evidence test, however, successive prosecution for the school-zone offense is prohibited because it is based on the same evidence that supported the plea and conviction on the loitering offense. Thus, the defendant was provided some token relief in this case. That relief will not be available to defendants in the future.

For offenses committed after the issuance of this opinion, the same-elements test will serve as the singular framework for determining whether two charges are the same offense for double-jeopardy analysis. The judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed. Defendant’s conviction and sentence on the school-zone offense are vacated.

In dissent, Justice Albin expresses the view that majority’s new rule cannot be squared with the principles of fairness that previously animated New Jersey’s double-jeopardy jurisprudence.  According to Justice Albin, the majority’s reversion to the same-elements test will allow the State to pursue repeated prosecutions for the same offense despite an earlier conviction or acquittal.