August 20, 2014

Tenth Circuit: Two Life Sentences for Violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(e) Violated Double Jeopardy

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Jackson on Tuesday, November 26, 2013.

Defendant-Appellant Jeremiah Jackson robbed a bank and, while fleeing, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into another car, killing two women. He was convicted of one count of bank robbery and two counts of killing a person while attempting to avoid apprehension for bank robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(e). The district court vacated the count of bank robbery as a lesser included offense of § 2113(e) and sentenced Jackson to two concurrent life terms.

On appeal, Jackson argued that sentencing him for two violations of § 2113(e) constituted double jeopardy because the two deaths arose from only one bank robbery-related accident, relying on the interpretation of similar statutory language held ambiguous such that lenity applies. The Tenth Circuit held that the phrase “any person” in § 2113(e) was sufficiently ambiguous as to require lenity. Thus, the two life sentences violated double jeopardy.

The court disagreed with Jackson’s contention that he should have been granted a mistrial. The prosecutor’s remarks during closing argument  were not directed to his decision to remain silent and any problems were cured by the limiting instruction given.

Jackson made several arguments based on the court’s failure to instruct the jury that he must have acted knowingly in committing the traffic accident that caused the deaths. The Tenth Circuit rejected them all and affirmed the trial court, with the exception of remanding for resentencing.

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