This Is (Double) Jeopardy

Jeopardy-300x237We here at the Dominy Law Firm are big fans of the classic game show “Jeopardy”. With the fast-paced trivia challenge and Alex Trebek’s unmatched gravitas, there is little not to like. We are also big fans of the Constitutional protection against Double Jeopardy. This protection is enshrined in the 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as Article I, section 10 of the Ohio Constitution. It prevents people from being prosecuted for a crime more than once or being punished multiple times for the same conduct. The protection against double jeopardy occasionally is used as a defense in DUI cases (called ‘OVI’ in Ohio).

Ohio Double Jeopardy Law
The State of Ohio has a statute in place which explains when multiple punishments may be imposed. Ohio Revised Code section 2941.25 states that, if any of the following is true, a defendant may be convicted of multiple offenses for the same conduct:

1) Each offense caused separate identifiable harm;
2) The offenses are committed separately; or
3) The offense were committed with separate motivation.

If none of those conditions apply, the defendant can only be convicted once for the conduct.

Double Jeopardy And Ohio DUI/OVI Cases
Although it is a rare occurrence, the protection against double jeopardy can play a role in defending OVI cases. Our firm recently represented a client who was charged with OVI in two different counties. A motorist saw a car drive off the road, strike a utility pole, and then swerve back onto the road in one continuous motion. The motorist called the Ohio State Highway Patrol to report the incident and continued to follow the car. The Highway Patrol aired a dispatch about the incident.

Multiple troopers heard the report and responded to the area. One trooper pulled-over our client several minutes later in the next county over from where the initial accident was alleged to have occurred. That trooper filed an OVI charge in the county where the traffic stop occurred, which our client was able to favorably resolve.

Several months later, a trooper from the county where our client struck the utility pole filed a second OVI charge in that county. A review of the ticket and police report showed this charge stemmed from the same incident as the case our client had already resolved. We filed a motion arguing that this second charge violated our client’s right against Double Jeopardy, as it would result in him being convicted and sentenced twice for the same conduct. It seemed like a clear winner.

The Law Is Not That Simple
Researching the issue revealed there was unfavorable precedent in that appellate district. The appellate court in that district issued two different decisions concluding that two OVI charges filed in two different counties did not violate the protection against Double Jeopardy, even though the charges were based on what seemed to be the same incident.

A thorough review of those decisions revealed some key factual differences with our client’s case. In one case, the defendant caused two separate accidents; one in each county. In the other case, the defendant crashed into a house in one county, stopped the vehicle, and then traveled around 4 miles, across the county line, where they drove into a ditch.

In contrast, our client was involved in a single alleged accident, never stopped driving, and was pulled over less than ten minutes after the initial call was aired. He just happened to cross into a different county during that short time frame.

While briefing an litigating the issue, we highlighted the differences between our client’s case and those cases already decided. The court agreed with our distinctions. The Judge held that none of the three conditions listed above applied to our client’s case, and therefore he could not be convicted a second time for this conduct. As a result, the OVI charge was dismissed.

Legal Issues In OVI Cases
Although instances of double jeopardy issues like this are rare, this case serves as an example of the numerous legal theories that can play a role in OVI cases. On the surface, our client’s situation appeared to be a typical OVI case with a traffic stop and field sobriety tests without any legal issues which would lead to a dismissal. However, on closer inspection, there was a violation of our client’s Constitutional rights which required the OVI charge to be thrown out. That is why it is important to hire an attorney with expertise in OVI/DUI defense who can analyze and litigate a case using all the legal defenses available.

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