29 December 2003

???? Convicting Two People of the Same Act is Legal ????
For prosecutors to seek and win convictions against two defendants in a crime, knowing only one of them can be guilty, is dismaying, dishonorable and maybe "outright deplorable.''

But it's not illegal, at least not according to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

In a 2-1 ruling Monday, the court upheld a 16-month increase in Jonathan Shaw's prison sentence for a 1995 restaurant robbery in Fairfield, based on the jury's conclusion that he held a gun to the restaurant manager's head.

In a separate trial more than two years later, prosecuted by the same Solano County district attorney's office, another jury found that a second participant in the robbery, Mango Watts, was the one who held the gun to the manager's head, a finding that added 10 years to Watts' sentence. That jury was unaware of Shaw's verdict.

Like other courts that have reviewed the case, the appeals court said only one of the two men could have wielded the gun, but no law prohibits prosecutors from making inconsistent arguments to different juries, as long as they don't falsify the evidence.
The same prosecutor makes deliberately inconsistent arguments to two different juries in order to achieve a purposefully conflicting result and that's not a clear violation of somebody's due process? Personally, I'd prefer to be the guy appealing the second Defendant's case because it would seem impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one Defendant did something which another Defendant had been found guilty of beyond a reasonable doubt and for which only one Defendant could be held responsible1.

1 I don't see any indications of arguments about principles or accessories being made here - must not be viable under California law.

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