Legislative Intent Key to Whether Punishments Violate Double Jeopardy Protections

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, criminal defendants cannot receive two punishments for two crimes, which he asserts to be a single crime, arising from the same transaction and prosecuted in a single trial. To be entitled to this protection, a criminal defendant must show that the charges arise from the same act or transaction and that the charged crimes are, in fact, the same offense. However, the protection against double jeopardy is not absolute where the legislature intended cumulative punishment under two statutes, and this intent is articulated either on the face of the statute or through legislative history.

As an example of the interaction between these principles of law, consider a recent appellate case where a defendant was charged with both criminal possession of a firearm and criminal violation of a protective order. These charges arose out of a single transaction in Shelton on or about August 10, 2005, when defendant possessed a firearm despite knowing that he was subject to a protective order of the court. The defendant was charged and convicted under General Statutes §§ 53a-217(a)(3)(A) and 53a-223(a). On appeal, the defendant argued that these crimes constituted the same offense, since one could not have happened without having committed the other. As such, being convicted of and sentenced for both violated double jeopardy.

The Appellate Court credited the defendant’s argument, referencing a case where a defendant could not have violated his protective order without also committing the crime of trespass. However, the Court acknowledged that double jeopardy does not limit whether or not a legislature may split a single transaction into separate crimes, allowing the prosecution multiple avenues of charging in a single proceeding. In essence, multiple punishments are possible where there is one transaction.

The Court delved into the language of each statute and found that neither contained prohibitions on multiple punishments for the same offense. In fact, neither statute made reference to the other. At this point, the Court found the legislative history of § 53a-223 to be rather telling. Representative Michael P. Lawlor explained, “Once you’re subject to a restraining order or a protective order, you’re not permitted to have a firearm. In fact, you’re obligated to turn in your firearm within a relatively short period of time.” When asked what would happen in a case where a defendant violated both a protective order and another criminal statute, Representative Lawlor said that both statutes would apply.

The Court found that the defendant’s conviction for violating both §§ 53a-217(a)(3)(A) and 53a-223(a) was consistent with legislative intent to provide cumulative punishments for the single act of possessing a firearm in violation of a protective order. Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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