James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Dutch Teach Feds About the Constitution

I watched CBS's 48 Hours Mystery tonight. Man in Texas is arrested for murder. A Texas jury acquits him. Three years later, he's charged by the federal government for the crime. While out on bail awaiting trial, he skips the country. Stopped and caught in Amsterdam on a fake passport, the Dutch government there, upon hearing the facts, refuses to extradite him to the U.S. to be tried again for the same crime for which he'd already been acquitted. He's eventually extradited for other charges (related to bookmaking and tax evasion), and is now serving time for them.

The program did not explain the justification for trying the man for murder in a federal court. The federalization of criminal law is disturbing and unconstitutional in itself. But what is embarrassing is how another country, the Netherlands, had to remind our own government of a bedrock principle of free society, enshrined in the Fifth Amendment's prohibition of Double Jeopardy: "nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." It could be argued that the original intent of the Fifth Amendment was only to prohibit trying the same person twice for the same offense in federal court. I would agree with that, but it is also true that the original intent was to also have the Tenth Amendment, which reserves powers not specifically delegated to the federal government to be reserved to the states and the people, remain in force. In other words, the original intent was that there wouldn't be a duplication of state laws at the federal level.

In any event, it's only common sense that if the feds can retry every case that ended in acquittal in state court, the clear intent and result is Double Jeopardy. It is barbaric to force an individual to face yet another trial after being acquitted in the first, under the flimsy pretext that a different jurisdiction is trying him. Thankfully the Netherlands refused to cooperate with such a tyrannical practice. But it is very embarrassing when one's own country, the supposed "land of the free," condones it.

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