It’s not so great to be the State . . . except when it is.

Let’s even up the books and note some advantages that the defendant has in a criminal case.

In the last post I mentioned that the accused gets to “hide” evidence in his possession that would tend show him to be guilty. And he CAN appeal a loss, because, while double jeopardy prevents the state from re-trying him, he can ask for a new trial. If he wins the appeal he may get one.

Some other differences relating to the defendant

  • He doesn’t have to testify; and no one can even mention to a jury that he hasn’t testified. A smart defense attorney might even leave the impression that the “mean old state” didn’t even let allow him to tell his story.
  • The whole burden is on the state to prove the case. If the defendant can raise a single reasonable doubt about ONE element of the state’s case, the jury must acquit the defendant.
  • The defendant gets to choose between having his case decided by a judge or a jury. That is important in most cases.
  • The defendant gets to choose (in many cases) between having his punishment decided by a judge or a jury.
  • The defendant cannot be convicted unless all 12 jurors agree. While the principle that a verdict must be unanimous applies to both “guilty” and “not guilty” verdicts, this rule is really in favor of the defendant.

My experience is that unless a jury can resolve its differences fairly early in the deliberations, the jurors holding out for a “not guilty” verdict tend to be more tenacious, while the “guilty” votes seem a bit more likely to yield, as in the movie 12 Angry Men.

As I’ve mentioned in another post, even the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney are treated differently if they make an error in the trial. The prosecutor’s mistake is called “misconduct,” while a bumbling defense attorney is called “ineffective.”

The question of fairness and balance really comes down to the question of whether our courts are successful in convicting the guilty and releasing the innocent. That is an issue we will never resolve.

Child Endangerment & DWI: Double Jeopardy?

DWISection 568.050 makes it a separate crime (child endangerment) to commit a DWI with a child in the car. The new Senate Bill 216 would also add driving with any level of controlled substance (or its metabolite) in the body to create a new way to commit child endangerment. Both of these ways to commit child endangerment create a problem when combined with a DWI.

Police & prosecutors are known to file DWI charges AND Child endangerment charges together for the same incident, if there is a child in the car. But that’s an illegal double-dip. I can’t see this practice continuing very long before the court of appeals overturns a conviction (that is, if there isn’t one in the works right now!).

Simply, a conviction on both charges together would amount to double jeopardy.The reason is that DWI is a lesser included offense of the Child Endangerment charge; i.e., the elements of the DWI charge are contained totally within the Child Endangerment charge. That’s a big no-no which smart defense attorneys will prevent and ethical prosecutors will not file in the first place.

All things considered, I’d say Missouri’s DWI Child endangerment law is pretty useless. If prosecutors can’t file Child Endangerment along with the DWI charge, then they must choose between the two. In that case they will certainly choose the DWI charge because the punishment ends up being worse for the defendant. With a DWI, he not only has criminal punishment, but he must deal with:

  • points on his driver’s license
  • increased punishment for repeat offenses
  • conviction can be later used to charge a higher level DWI
  • odd stuff like insurance rate increases, job loss, etc.

If the legislature wants to make DWI child endangerment stick they will have to make it a type of aggravated DWI with ALL the DWI penalties and consequences PLUS something more for having Junior along for the ride.