476 U.S. 140 (1986), 85-227, Smalis v. Pennsylvania

Docket Nº:No. 85-227
Citation:476 U.S. 140, 106 S.Ct. 1745, 90 L.Ed.2d 116, 54 U.S.L.W. 4443
Party Name:Smalis v. Pennsylvania
Case Date:May 05, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 140

476 U.S. 140 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 1745, 90 L.Ed.2d 116, 54 U.S.L.W. 4443

Smalis

v.

Pennsylvania

No. 85-227

United States Supreme Court

May 5, 1986

Argued April 2, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Syllabus

Petitioners, husband and wife, who owned a building housing a restaurant and apartments, were charged with various crimes in connection with a fire in the building that resulted in the killing of two tenants. At the close of the prosecution's case in chief at their bench trial in a Pennsylvania state court, petitioners challenged the sufficiency of the evidence by filing a demurrer pursuant to a Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure. The trial court sustained the demurrer, and the Pennsylvania Superior Court quashed the Commonwealth's appeal on the ground that it was barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, holding that the granting of a demurrer is not the functional equivalent of an acquittal, and that, for purposes of considering a plea of double jeopardy, a defendant who demurs at the close of the prosecution's case in chief "elects to seek dismissal on grounds unrelated to his factual guilt or innocence."

Held: The trial judge's granting of petitioners' demurrer was an acquittal under the Double Jeopardy Clause, and the Commonwealth's appeal was barred because reversal would have led to further trial proceedings. Whether the trial is to a jury or, as here, to the bench, subjecting the defendant to postacquittal factfinding proceedings going to guilt or innocence violates the Double Jeopardy Clause. Pp. 144-146.

507 Pa. 344, 490 A.2d 394, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 141

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

At the close of the prosecution's case in chief, the trial court dismissed certain charges against petitioners on the ground that the evidence presented was legally insufficient to support a conviction. The question presented is whether the Double Jeopardy Clause bars the prosecution from appealing this ruling.

I

Petitioners, husband and wife, owned a building housing a restaurant and some apartments that burned under suspicious circumstances, killing two of the tenants. Petitioners were charged with various crimes in connection with this fire, including criminal homicide, reckless endangerment, [106 S.Ct. 1747] and causing a catastrophe.1 They opted for a bench trial, and at the close of the prosecution's case in chief challenged the sufficiency of the evidence by filing a demurrer pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 1124(a)(1).2 The trial court sustained petitioners' demurrer to charges of murder, voluntary manslaughter, and causing a catastrophe, stating:

As the trier of fact and law, the court was not satisfied, after considering all of the facts together with all reasonable

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inferences which the Commonwealth's evidence tended to prove, that there was sufficient evidence from which it could be concluded that either of the defendants was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of setting or causing to be set the fire in question.

App. to Pet. for Cert. 101a-102a.

The Commonwealth sought review of this ruling in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, but a panel of that court quashed the appeal, holding it barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause. The Superior Court granted review en banc and affirmed. 331 Pa.Super. 307, 480 A.2d 1046 (1984). Citing a number of our decisions as controlling authority, the court set out two relevant principles of law. First, a judgment that the evidence is legally insufficient to sustain a guilty verdict constitutes an acquittal for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause. See, e.g., United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co., 430 U.S. 564 (1977); Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1 (1978); Sanabria v. United States, 437 U.S. 54 (1978); United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82, 91 (1978) (dicta); Hudson v. Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40 (1981). Second, when a trial court enters such a judgment, the Double Jeopardy Clause bars an appeal by the prosecution not only when it might result in a...

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