The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously smacked down the Illinois Supreme Court in President Barack Obama’s home state for violating the Fifth Amendment.
Almost always the Supreme Court chooses to take a case (called granting a writ of certiorari) from a federal appeals court or a state supreme court by setting the case for briefing and argument. The Court receives 8,000 petitions for certiorari per year, and it grants fewer than 80.
Yet in this case of Martinez v. Illinois, the justices took the very rare step of deciding the whole case just based on the petition filed with them requesting review. The Supreme Court summarily reversed the Illinois Supreme Court for flouting the Constitution and allowing an egregious violation of the Fifth Amendment.
As far as the High Court was concerned, there was no need to read legal briefs or hear arguments. It simply reversed the lower court’s decision in what is the judicial version of a slap upside the back of Illinois’ head.
Esteban Martinez was indicted in 2006 on aggravated battery and mob action against Avery Binion and Demarco Scott, who were also convicted felons. Illinois’ prosecutors said the state required them in the courtroom to testify for trial to proceed to a conviction. For months, a date for trial would be set, then the prosecutor would tell the judge at the last moment that Illinois required a continuance until another day.
Each time, Binion and Scott would be subpoenaed but would simply not show. The prosecutors would tell the judge that they have no idea where these convicted felons are.
Finally the county judge said it was time for this case to proceed or be dismissed and issued warrants so that the prosecutors could use the police to find them and bring them to court. After resetting the trial yet again to May 17, 2010, Binion and Scott were still nowhere to be found.
The day of the trial, the judge moved things further back to give prosecutors every opportunity but told them he would issue no more delays. The prosecutor told the judge he wouldn’t be participating under these circumstances.
The jury was sworn in, and the judge ordered Illinois to make its case. The prosecutor refused to do so.
So Martinez’s defense lawyer requested the judge to issue a directed verdict of not guilty for Martinez, since the prosecution was offering no argument and presenting no evidence against him. The judge agreed, and Martinez was cleared of both charges.
Illinois appealed, and the Illinois Appellate Court ruled for the prosecution that the lower court should just continue granting continuances under the prosecution said they were ready for the case to move forward. The court ordered a new trial.
Martinez objected that the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause would not allow another trial after he had been found not guilty. Nonetheless the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court, ordering a new trial.
Illinois’ high court ruled that “rigid, mechanical rules” should not determine whether the Double Jeopardy Clause is violated. The court held that since the state was not participating in the case, Martinez was “never at risk of conviction.” Thus Martinez was never in jeopardy the first time and so would not suffer double jeopardy by a new trial.
“There are few if any rules of criminal procedure clearer than the rule that jeopardy attaches when the jury is empaneled and sworn.” The U.S. Supreme Court completely rejected the Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion that courts should follow a functional approach to determine how far into the prosecution a defendant must go before he is in jeopardy of a conviction.
There are ways trials can end that do not bar a second trial: for example, a mistrial. However, there is no doubt here:
The trial court acquitted him of the charged offenses. Perhaps the most fundamental rule in the history of double jeopardy jurisprudence has been that a verdict of acquittal could not be reviewed without putting a defendant twice in jeopardy, and thereby violating the Constitution.
The justices also noted that Illinois could have dismissed the case. Then if prosecutors later found Binion and Smith, they could have re-charged Martinez and brought him to trial. Instead they went through the jury selection process and did not request the case to be dismissed. Once the jury was sworn in, there was no going back.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.