When you (or a friend or relative) are facing a criminal trial, there are lots of ways in which the prosecution can make mistakes. The state can bring a case that is too old (in other words, outside the statute of limitations), that is based upon illegally obtained evidence (proof that is barred under the Fourth Amendment), or that violates your constitutional protection against double jeopardy. Two cases, one from here in the Tampa Bay area (recently decided by the Second District Court of Appeal) and one from across the state (decided earlier this year by the Fifth District Court of Appeal), present two different scenarios in which the state can stack charges in a way that violates double jeopardy.
A Single Criminal Episode and Double Jeopardy
The nearby case, which originated in Pasco County, involved a man, a travel trailer, and a firearm. Cecil Lambert stood accused of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of carrying a concealed weapon. All of these charges arose from an exchange outside a travel trailer on land that Lambert owned. Lambert allegedly shot at one man and also placed his gun against the head of a woman, pulling the trigger only to have the gun jam. At his trial, the jury did not find Lambert guilty of any homicide crime. Instead, on the murder charges, the jury decided to convict on two counts of “improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon,” which was a lesser included offense. The jury did, however, convict on the concealed firearm charge. Lambert received a sentence of time served on the improper exhibition convictions and five years on the concealed weapon charge.
Lambert appealed and won. The problem with his verdict related to the pair of improper exhibition convictions. The facts in this case clearly showed a single instance of Lambert wielding his gun in the presence of his victims. In some cases, having multiple victims can mean a possible conviction on multiple charges, but not in this circumstance. The illegal-exhibition statute expressly used the language “in the presence of one or more persons.” That wording meant that, if the accused person engages in one act of exhibiting his weapon, that translates to one count of improper exhibition, regardless of the number of victims involved. Therefore, even though Lambert exhibited his weapon in front of more than one victim, he only brandished it once, so he could only be guilty of one count. By stacking two counts of illegal exhibition based upon this one single criminal episode, the state violated Lambert’s constitutional protection against double jeopardy.