Both the United States Constitution and the Virginia State Constitution contain provisions that prevent a criminal defendant from being charged or punished twice for the same offense. These protections from “double jeopardy” help form the backbone of the procedural due process rights that criminal defendants are entitled to under both the state and federal constitutions. The Virginia Court of Appeals recently decided to reverse a defendant’s convictions on these grounds, finding that he could not be convicted of two charges for the same conduct, and that the prosecution would have to choose one or the other charge upon a retrial.
The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with several crimes after an alleged burglary. Police were tipped off to the defendant after he was observed spending some old currency that appeared to be the same as that which was reported missing from the victim’s home. After serving a search warrant at the defendant’s house, police found allegedly stolen items in his possession, including jewelry, currency, firearms, and ammunition. Among other charges, the defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon as well as possession of ammunition by a felon. At trial, the defendant was ultimately convicted of several crimes, including both the enhanced firearm and ammunition offenses.
The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the offenses of possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of ammunition by a felon cannot be charged together under the circumstances of the case without violating constitutional double jeopardy clauses. The defendant convinced the appellate court that because the two charges arose out of the same occurrence, by the same factual pattern, and were not two separate incidents of possession, that he could not be punished for both. The Virginia Court of Appeals reversed both of the defendant’s convictions and instructed the prosecution to choose one or the other charge and retry the defendant.