Second Trial After Conviction Reversal for Lack of Evidence
Burks v. United States (1978) 437 U.S. 1 98 S. Ct. 2141, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1 determined that an accused may not be subjected to a second trial when his conviction in a prior trial has been reversed by an appellate court solely for lack of sufficient evidence to sustain the jury's verdict.
In analyzing the issue, the court in Burks explained: "It is unquestionably true that the Court of Appeals' decision 'represented a resolution, correct or not, of some or all of the factual elements of the offense charged.'
By deciding that the Government had failed to come forward with sufficient proof of petitioner's capacity to be responsible for criminal acts, that court was clearly saying that Burks' criminal culpability had not been established.
If the District Court had so held in the first instance, as the reviewing court said it should have done, a judgment of acquittal would have been entered and, of course, petitioner could not be retried for the same offense.
Consequently, as Mr. Justice Douglas correctly perceived in Sapir v. United States (1955) 348 U.S. 373 75 S. Ct. 422, 99 L. Ed. 426, it should make no difference that the reviewing court, rather than the trial court, determined the evidence to be insufficient. (Id. at p. 374 75 S. Ct. at pp. 422-423.)
The appellate decision unmistakably meant that the District Court has erred in failing to grant a judgment of acquittal. to hold otherwise would create a purely arbitrary distinction between those in petitioner's position and others who would enjoy the benefit of a correct decision by the District Court.
The Double Jeopardy Clause forbids a second trial for the purpose of affording the prosecution another opportunity to supply evidence which it failed to muster in the first proceeding.
This is central to the objective of the prohibition against successive trials. the Clause does not allow 'the State . . . to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense." (Burks, supra, 437 U.S. at pp. 10-11 98 S. Ct. at p. 2147.)
In a footnote, the court in Burks, supra, 437 U.S. 1, recognized that on remand the trial court there may well have concluded, "after 'a balancing of the equities,' that a second trial should not be held," but noted that because the double jeopardy clause applied in that case, there were no equities to be balanced. (Id. at p. 11, fn. 6 98 S. Ct. at p. 2147.)
The high court also stressed that when an appellate court has determined that the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, "the prosecution cannot complain of prejudice, for it has been given one fair opportunity to offer whatever proof it could assemble." (Id. at p. 16 98 S. Ct. at p. 2147.)