On February 20, 2013 the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Evans v Michigan. This case originated out of a trial that took place in Wayne County. The facts of the case are remarkable. Evans was charged with arson. He decided to go to trial. After the prosecution put on its case his trial attorney made a motion for a directed verdict. This is a typical procedural matter in most trials. During a motion for directed verdict the defense attorney argues to the judge that the defendant is entitled to an acquittal verdict for a specific reason, most notably, that the prosecution has failed to prove its case. In the Evans case the trial attorney argued that the prosecution failed to prove one of the elements of the charged offense and therefore his client was entitled to a directed verdict. The trial judge agreed and granted the directed verdict. The prosecution appealed the trial court’s ruling and the outcome was quite amazing. The trial court actually made a mistake. It should have never granted the directed verdict. The trial court was mistaken when it believed that the prosecution needed to prove a particular element. The prosecution argued that because the acquittal was based on a mistake of law then the prosecution should be able to prosecute Mr. Evans again, i.e., that Double Jeopardy did not attach. Therefore the issue in the Evans appeal in a nutshell was whether or not a midtrial acquittal erroneously granted by the trial court is an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes.
Evans’ case in the Michigan Courts
The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Evans’ case. Evans conceded that the trial court made a mistake when it granted the defense’s request for a directed verdict, but he argued that he was still entitled to have his retrial barred by the double jeopardy clause. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected his argument.
The Michigan Supreme court, in a divided decision, affirmed the Michigan Court of Appeals. The majority held that when a trial court grants a defendant’s motion for a directed verdict on the basis of an error of law, the trial court’s ruling does not constitute an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes and the defendant can be retried.
Evans’ case in the United States Supreme Court
The Court granted certiorari in order to resolve the disagreement among state and federal courts on the question of whether retrial is barred when a trial court grants an acquittal because the prosecution failed to prove an element that in actuality it did not have to prove.
The United States Supreme Court reversed the Michigan courts. The Court took a painstaking review of its prior cases and precedent and refused to overturn binding precedent as requested by the state. The Court found that the facts in Evans followed those that have come before it. The trial court’s judgment of acquittal, however erroneous, precluded re-prosecution on the charge and should have barred the State’s appeal as well.