Poker Players Robbery Case Law

In Ashe v. Swenson (1970), several armed men robbed six poker players in the home of one of the victims. See Ashe, 397 U.S. at 437, 90 S. Ct. at 1191. Ashe was charged in separate counts with robbery of each of the six players. Id. at 438, 90 S. Ct. at 1191. In his first trial, for the robbery of one of the victims, the proof that an armed robbery had occurred and that personal property had been taken from each of the victims was uncontroverted. Id. But, the testimony that Ashe had been one of the robbers was weak. Id. The trial judge instructed the jury that if it found that Ashe had been one of the participants in the armed robbery, then he was guilty under the law, as long as "any money" had been taken from the victim; it did not matter whether Ashe had personally robbed the victim. Id. at 439, 90 S. Ct. at 1191-1192. The jury returned a verdict of "not guilty due to insufficient evidence." See Ashe, 397 U.S. at 439, 90 S. Ct. at 1192. Six weeks later Ashe was brought to trial again, this time for the robbery of another participant in the poker game. Id. His motion to dismiss based upon his previous acquittal was overruled. Id. At the second trial, the witnesses were for the most part the same, though this time their testimony was substantially stronger on the issue of Ashe's identity. Ashe, 397 U.S. at 439-440, 90 S. Ct. at 1192. The case went to the jury on instructions virtually identical to those given at the first trial. Id. at 440, 90 S. Ct. at 1192. Ashe was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Id. After his appeals were exhausted, Ashe brought a habeas corpus proceeding in which his conviction was affirmed by both the Western District of Missouri and the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. See Ashe, 397 U.S. at 440, 90 S. Ct. at 1192. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and, to resolve this issue, it adopted the approach taken by federal courts and reasoned that when a previous judgment of acquittal is based upon a general verdict, as is usually the case, the reviewing court must "examine the record of the prior proceeding, taking into account the pleadings, evidence, charge, and other relevant matters, 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." Id. at 444, 90 S. Ct. at 1194 (citing Mayers & Yarbrough, Bis vexari: New Trials and Successive Prosecutions, 74 HARV. L. REV. 1, 38-39 (1960)). Using this approach, the Court found that the record in the prior proceeding was utterly devoid of any indication that the first jury could rationally have found that an armed robbery had not occurred. See Ashe, 397 U.S. at 445, 90 S. Ct. at 1195. It determined that "the single rationally conceivable issue in dispute before the jury was whether the petitioner had been one of the robbers." Id. Because the only rational explanation for the verdict was that the jury found that Ashe was not one of the robbers, the Court held that a second prosecution for the robbery was wholly precluded. Ashe, 397 U.S. at 445-47, 90 S. Ct. at 1195-96; see also Sauceda, 980 S.W.2d at 646.