Even Americans who know very little about the U.S. Constitution know this much: once a jury decides you are innocent of a crime, the government can’t keep hauling you back into court to try your case over again. It’s called the prohibition on double jeopardy, and it’s in the Bill of Rights because the Founding Fathers thought it was an essential bulwark against tyranny. But like most truisms in American law — that the police have to read you your rights before they question you, that it takes a unanimous verdict to be convicted, or that the police need a warrant to search your house — there are exceptions large enough to drive a prison bus through.
The Supreme Court this week decided to hear a case out of Arkansas that will test just how big the exceptions to the double-jeopardy protection contained in the Fifth Amendment are, and experts say the decision could resolve long-standing differences between the states about when it’s O.K. for the government to retry defendants when it can’t get a conviction the first time. Because of the nature in which the decisions were made in Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court could use the case to decide what constitutes an official verdict.
Arkansas prosecutors want to try Alex Blueford on capital-murder charges because they believe he hit his girlfriend’s 19-month-old toddler, Thomas McFadden Jr., so hard that the boy’s eyes bled and his brain swelled so much that he died.