Back in 2007, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania announced its intent to prosecute William Barnes for the death of officer Walter Barclay, eyebrows were raised. Barnes, you see, had already been tried for the 1966 shooting of Barclay and had been found guilty of attempted murder. Why was he not charged with murder at the first trial? Because Barclay wasn’t dead yet.
He died in 2007, more than 40 years after the shooting. The Commonwealth, already having exacted 26 years from Barnes, now 74, for the attempted murder, now seeks to exact some more for the eventual death of Ofc. Barclay.
The defense will seek to show the jury that the Commonwealth cannot prove the causal link, relying in part on the fact that Barclay, despite being confined to a wheelchair:
A very important question, for it should be quite obvious that whatever the terminology attached to the formal charge, the act
for which Barnes is being exposed to further punishment is the same: that he fired a weapon with the intent to cause the death of Ofc. Barclay.
Having already been punished once for that act, how is it permissible for the Commonwealth to seek to punish him again? I decided to delve into the quagmire of Double Jeopardy law, a muck from which I’m not quite sure that I’ve yet emerged. Nonetheless, I found this quote from a LawProf in another article covering the start of the trial:
Temple University Law Professor Jim Strazella says he believes the charges are permissible, and don’t violate any double jeopardy laws.
Since there is no further explanation in that article, or any other that I could find, you are left to my devices and I am to yours.
The fifth amendment to the United States constitution declares that no person shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb . . . . This amendment is fully applicable to the states through the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution. Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784 (1969).
One of the protections flowing from the double jeopardy guarantee is that against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711, 717 (1969); or conviction. Illinois v. Vitale, 447 U.S. 410 (1980).
The constitutional prohibition against ‘double jeopardy’ was designed to protect an individual from being subjected to the hazards of trial and possible conviction more than once for an alleged offense. . . . The underlying idea, one that is deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty.
Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184 (1957). The most famous double jeopardy case is Blockburger v. United States, which laid out the test for determining if multiple convictions arising out of the same incident violated the prohibition against double jeopardy:
[t]he applicable rule is that where the same act or transaction constitutes a violation of two distinct statutory provisions, the test to be applied to determine whether there are two offenses or only one, is whether each provision requires proof of a fact which the other does not.
Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304 (1932). This analysis ‘precludes examination of the evidence.’ Illinois v. Vitale, 447 U.S. 410, 416 (1980). Instead, an examination of the elements of the two crimes is essential. Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161, 166 (1977).
Quoth Justice Stevens, in Illinois v. Vitale:
In Harris v. Oklahoma, 433 U.S. 682, we held that a conviction on a felony-murder charge barred a subsequent prosecution for robbery, where the robbery had been used to establish the requisite intent on the murder charge. Cf. Whalen v. United States, 445 U.S. 684. Since it was theoretically possible that a different felony could have supported the murder charge, such a result may not have been required by a literal application of the Blockburger test, see Whalen v. United States, supra, at 708-711 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting). However, the entire Court agreed that it was required by the Double Jeopardy Clause.
Of course, it is the interpretation of state law by a state court that controls and under PA law, attempted murder may not be a lesser included offenses of murder. There is a line of cases that suggests that the treatment of those crimes intended by the legislature plays an important role in determining whether they are the same for double jeopardy purposes. Perhaps the differing sentencing ranges for attempt and the completed act (for murder at least, at least here in CT) may give some weight to that argument.
Stepping back from the legal mumbo-jumbo, there is a certain appeal to the argument that Barnes should not be permitted to reap the benefits of a lesser sentence merely because Barclay did not die immediately.
This, however, is not unavailing, especially in light of the fact that the Commonwealth was willing to have Barnes plead to a lesser degree of murder, exposing him to a potential maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years, with credit for 16 years already served.
The Commonwealth is not interested in the legal issues here, especially when you consider the fact that Barclay’s body wasn’t autopsied for 7 months and after Barnes had been charged with murder. To me it seems more like grandstanding and putting on a show in light of the death of a member of law enforcement. Which is fine, except Barnes has already paid a pretty steep price for that very crime.
[As you may have noticed, my DJ analysis was pretty half-baked. That's because I am unwilling to embark on writing a brief on this subject just yet. If I've missed a key case, I'm sure you'll let me know about it.]
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