Difference Between Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel
In Ashe v. Swenson (1970) 397 U.S. 436 90 S. Ct. 1189, 25 L. Ed. 2d 469 the high court determined that the doctrine of collateral estoppel is embodied in the Fifth Amendment double jeopardy protection, which it had extended to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment in Benton v. Maryland (1969) 395 U.S. 784 89 S. Ct. 2056, 23 L. Ed. 2d 707. (Ashe, supra, 397 U.S. at pp. 437, 442-446 90 S. Ct. at pp. 1190-1191, 1193-1196.)
In deciding its applicability in a case was no longer just a matter of fundamental fairness, the court in Ashe stated:
"Collateral estoppel' is an awkward phase, but it stands for an extremely important principle in our adversary system of justice. It means simply that when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit.
Although first developed in civil litigation, collateral estoppel has been an established rule of federal criminal law at least since this Court's decision more than 50 years ago in Oppenheimer . . . As a rule of federal law, therefore, 'it is much too late to suggest that this principle is not fully applicable to a former judgment in a criminal case, either because of lack of "mutuality" or because the judgment may reflect only a belief that the Government had not met the higher burden of proof exacted in such cases for the Government's evidence as a whole although not necessarily as to every link in the chain.'
The federal decisions have made clear that the rule of collateral estoppel in criminal cases is not to be applied with the hypertechnical and archaic approach of a 19th century pleading book, but with realism and rationality.
Where a previous judgment of acquittal was based upon a general verdict, . . . this approach requires a court 'to examine the record of a prior proceeding, taking into account the pleadings, evidence, charge, and other relevant matter, and conclude whether a rational jury could have grounded its verdict upon an issue other than that which the defendant seeks to foreclose from consideration.'
The inquiry 'must be set in a practical frame and viewed with an eye to all the circumstances of the proceedings.' Citations." (Ashe, supra, 397 U.S. at pp. 443-444 90 S. Ct. at p. 1194.)
Even though the doctrine of res judicata, "which prevents relitigation by the parties of issues that have been determined by a final judgment in a previous action between the parties," is different from collateral estoppel, "which bars relitigation of previously decided issues in a new proceeding on a different cause of action" (People v. Methey (1991) 227 Cal. App. 3d 349, 354 277 Cal. Rptr. 777, disapproved on other grounds in Schlick v. Superior Court (1992) 4 Cal. 4th 310 14 Cal. Rptr. 2d 406, 841 P.2d 926; see also Lucido v. Superior Court (1990) 51 Cal. 3d 335, 341, fn. 3 272 Cal. Rptr. 767, 795 P.2d 1223, 2 A.L.R.5th 995), the cases dealing with the doctrine of collateral estoppel are often instructive in applying the related principles of res judicata. (See People v. Howie (1995) 41 Cal. App. 4th 729, 735-736 48 Cal. Rptr. 2d 505; 1 Witkin & Epstein, Cal. Criminal Law, supra, Defenses, 340-361, pp. 394-417 & Defenses (1999 supp.), 340-361, pp. 156-165.)
Application of each equitable doctrine has generally been limited to situations where jeopardy has attached at the previous proceeding (People v. Uhlemann (1973) 9 Cal. 3d 662, 668, fn. 4 108 Cal. Rptr. 657, 511 P.2d 609) and may apply to issues finally determined in a writ proceeding. (In re Crow (1971) 4 Cal. 3d 613, 621-623 94 Cal. Rptr. 254, 483 P.2d 1206.)
Each doctrine also provides that: "A final judgment on the merits bars the parties or those in privity with them from litigating the same cause of action in a subsequent proceeding and collaterally estops parties or those in privity with them from litigating in a subsequent proceeding on a different cause of action any issue actually litigated and determined in the former proceeding".
The application of the doctrine in a given case depends upon an affirmative answer to three questions:
(1) Was the issue decided in the prior adjudication identical with the one presented in the action in question ?
(2) Was there a final judgment on the merits ?
(3) Was the party against whom the plea asserted a party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication ? (People v. Howie, supra, 41 Cal. App. 4th at p. 736.)