Finally, a criminal defendant has caught a break as a result of a judges mistake.
In it's decision released this morning, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of an operating while intoxicated case in the case of State v. John Kramer. The case against Mr. Kramer was weak, to say the least, and at the close of the State's evidence, the defense attorney moved for Judgment of Acquittal contending that even if the court took the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction in the case. (For more on judgment of acquittal, see http://www.grllaw.com/CM/Custom/Criminal-Procedure-Timeline.asp). The defenses primary argument appeared to be that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the defendant was actually operating the vehicle. The trial judge initially agreed and granted the Judgment of Acquittal. Following the Judge's initial ruling the prosecutor then pointed out where in the record it was at least arguably established that the defendant admitted to have been driving. The Judge then flip-flopped and reversed his prior ruling and denied the defendant's motion for Judgment of Acquittal. It didn't end there though because clever defense counsel then objected to the change in the ruling, arguing that once the Judgment of Acquittal was made, double jeopardy attached and it could not be undone. Again, the Judge changed his position and agreed with the defense attorney stating "Good. Take it up. It's directed. Goodbye. We're done." The Judge followed up his ruling stating "Well mark this one up for me. My mistake. But I'm going to say the ruling stands." The charges were then dismissed.
The Supreme Court held that the Judge did have the authority and ability to correct his initial entry of Judgment of Acquittal had he so desired without violating the principals of Double Jeopardy. They reasoned that a ruling on Judgment of Acquittal is not final until it is actually entered of record with the Clerk of Court. Prior to that, the courts are permitted to correct or modify their rulings as they seem fit. According to the Supreme Court: "To the extent we have not done so previously, we now hold that a judge may amend an erroneous directed verdict of acquittal where the ruling is corrected immediately and prior to any further proceedings."
The fun part about this case is that while the Supreme Court ruled against the defendant regarding the issue surrounding the Judgment of Acquittal, the defendant ultimately prevailed because the Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the dismissal of the charge following the initial erroneous ruling by the Judge did cause Double Jeopardy to attach because that Order of Dismissal was filed with the Clerk of Court. As a result the second dismissal was final and the defendant could not be retried. Chalk one of for the good guys!
The full opinion can be found at:(http://www.judicial.state.ia.us/Supreme_Court/Recent_Opinions/20090130/07-1202.pdf)