Trial Court Error In Arson Case Not Considered An Acquittal In Michigan v. Evans

A recent 6th Circuit Court of Appeals case evaluated what an “acquittal” means for purposes of double jeopardy. Double jeopardy is the legal concept that means you can’t be tried twice on the same charges. This means a prosecutor is forbidden from being a second lawsuit against a defendant after he or she has been convicted or acquitted of a particular charge.

In Michigan v. Evans, the defendant Lamar Evans was accused of burning a vacant house pursuant to MCL 750.73, Michigan’s arson statute, which provides:

“Any person who willfully of maliciously burns any building or other real property, or the contents thereof … shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 10 years.”

If you have been charged with arson or any other Michigan criminal offense, consulting with an experienced Michigan criminal defense law firm is important to protect your rights and begin preparing your defense.

At trial, the court erroneously told the prosecution that in order to prove Evans’ guilt, it had to show that the burned house was not a dwelling. Because the prosecution failed to provide this evidence, the court granted a directed verdict for the defendant and entered an acquittal dismissing the case.

In Michigan, arson is defined as the deliberate burning of a house or building and the law distinguishes among:

• Arson involving houses;
• Arson involving “other real property”; and
• Arson involving personal property.

Despite the distinction, it is not necessary to show where the alleged crime involves “other real property” that the building was not a dwelling.

The prosecutor appealed the decision and the Court of Appeals granted the appeal stating that “it is undisputed that the trial court had erred” by requiring the prosecution to prove that the burned building was not a dwelling in order to obtain an arson conviction.

On review by the Supreme Court, the justices agreed, reasoning that when a trial court grants a defendant’s motion for a directed verdict on the basis of an error of law – but doesn’t resolve any underlying factual element of the charged offense – it is not an acquittal for the purposes of double jeopardy. As a result a defendant can be retried on those charges.

For more information about double jeopardy or arson charges in Michigan, contact the aggressive criminal defense law firm of Grabel & Associates for a free, immediate consultation.

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