The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently held that a man's conviction for both aggravated assault and aggravated robbery constituted multiple punishments for the same offense and therefore violated his constitutional double-jeopardy protections.
Facts of the case
The incident began when two men showed up at the defendant's house with the intent to collect on a debt owed to one of them by defendant. Upon confronting the defendant about the debt, he pulled out a gun, pointed it at the men and threatened to use it if his instructions were not followed. The defendant strip-searched the men, released them, with instructions to leave all their belongings behind and warning them not to return. At some point during the interaction the gun was fired into a wall.
The man was subsequently charged and convicted of two counts each of aggravated assault and aggravated robbery.
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, in part, that no person shall "be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." This provision, known as double jeopardy, means it is a violation of a person's constitutional rights to be: (1) prosecuted for the same offense after acquittal; (2) prosecuted for the same offense after conviction; or (3) punished multiple times for the same offense.
In the present case, the basis of the defendant's double-jeopardy claim was that he was being punished twice for the same offense. There are two types of multiple-punishment claims:
- Lesser-included offense. In this type of double-jeopardy claim, a defendant is charged with two crimes, one of which (the "lesser-included offense") requires proof of the same or less than all the facts as the other (the "greater offense") - in other words, proving the greater offense necessarily proves the lesser offense.
- Multiple statutes. In this type of double-jeopardy claim, a defendant is charged under two or more different statutes covering the same criminal conduct for which the legislature has not clearly indicated its intent to punish each separately.
In multiple-punishment claims, courts use the "same elements" test to determine whether a person has been punished more than once for the same crime. Under the "same elements" test, if each offense requires proof of an additional fact which the other doesn't, double-jeopardy protections have not been violated.
Conviction of both crimes violated double-jeopardy protections
The indictments for both aggravated assault and aggravated robbery alleged that the defendant engaged in threats of imminent bodily harm while simultaneously brandishing a gun. The indictment for aggravated robbery further alleged that the defendant's conduct occurred in the commission of a theft. Because proving the commission of aggravated robbery necessarily proved the commission of aggravated assault, aggravated assault is a lesser-included offense of aggravated robbery. Furthermore, because there is no evidence that the legislature intended to punish each crime separately, doing so would constitute multiple-punishments for the same offense in violation of the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy.
If a multiple-punishment claim is successful, only the conviction for the most serious offense is retained. The punishments for aggravated robbery and aggravated assault are 25 years and 20 years, respectively. Therefore, the aggravated assault conviction is the less-serious offense and was set aside.
If you have been charged with more than one crime arising out of the same criminal episode, it is important to work with a criminal defense lawyer to ensure your rights are not violated. Speak to a criminal defense lawyer today.