Court Rules on Double Jeopardy Issue in Pennsylvania Case
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Constitution’s ban on ″double jeopardy″ does not bar defendants being resentenced after some counts of their convictions are overturned, the Supreme Court ruled today.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices overturned a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that had freed Benjamin Goldhammer of the threat of having to go to jail for forgery and theft.
Following a state trial in Philadelphia, Goldhammer was convicted of stealing more than $220,000 from a business, Lessner and Co. Inc., for which he had served as comptroller.
Goldhammer was convicted of 56 counts of forgery and 56 counts of theft. He was sentenced to two to five years in prison on one of the theft counts, and to five years probation on one of the forgery counts.
Sentence was suspended on the remaining counts.
After Goldhammer appealed his conviction on all 112 counts, a state superior court ruled that his prosecution on 34 of the theft counts - including the only count that drew a prison sentence - should have been barred by the state’s statute of limitations.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Nov. 10, 1983, upheld the superior court’s ruling, and denied a request by state prosecutors to return Goldhammer’s case to the trial court for resentencing on the remaining 22 theft counts.
The state’s highest court ruled that resentencing Goldhammer on those counts would violate his constitutional privilege against double jeopardy.
The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protects people from being retried for the same crimes for which they previously were acquitted.
In an unsigned opinion today, the Supreme Court relied heavily on one of its own 1980 rulings to say that the Pennsylvania court was wrong.
Citing that 1980 ruling, called United States vs. DiFrancesco, the court said: ″We noted that the decisions of this court clearly establish that a sentencing in a non-capital case does not have the qualities of constitutional finality that attend an acquittal.″
The justices noted that the Pennsylvania court still could decide that state law barred prosecutors from obtaining a resentencing on Goldhammer’s remaining criminal conviction counts.
Justices William J. Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Harry A. Blackmun and John Paul Stevens dissented from today’s decision, for varying reasons.