Fear of double jeopardy goes back to Founding Fathers

June 14, 1991

The decision of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals' decision to reverse the manslaughter conviction of a drunken driver on the grounds of double jeopardy has its roots in the Founding Fathers' fear of the British bureaucracy, according to a law professor.

"The framers were very fearful of England," said Byron L. Warnken, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

They wanted to make sure no government could harass a citizen by prosecuting that citizen again and again for the same alleged wrongdoing, said Warnken.

In the case in question, by paying a citation for driving the wrong way on the Baltimore Beltway, the driver had in effect pleaded guilty and convicted himself of the "same conduct" that led to the fatal accident, the appeals court said. Thus, he couldn't be tried for manslaughter.

The issue has also been addressed by the Supreme Court and Maryland's highest court.

Grady vs. Corbin, the Supreme Court case, was decided May 30, 1990. Thomas J. Corbin, who was intoxicated, strayed into the wrong lane and hit an oncoming car in a 1987 accident in Dutchess County, N.Y. The driver of the other car later died of his injuries. Corbin was given two traffic tickets, one for drunken driving and the other for failure to stay in his lane of traffic. Corbin pleaded guilty to both charges in traffic court. Later, he was indicted for causing the driver's death. The court ruled that the state could not prosecute Corbin for the death because it intended to prove Corbin's negligence by offering proof that he was drunk, and Corbin had already been prosecuted for the drunken driving charge.

In this state, the Court of Appeals decided Gianiny vs. Maryland Aug. 14, 1990. In that case, Frank R. Gianiny, of Montgomery County, lost control of his Jeep in the rain Nov. 20, 1988. The Jeep slammed into a stopped vehicle, injuring Mark D. Mann, 42, the principal of Parkland Junior High School. Mann died as a result of his injuries.

At the time of the accident, police issued Gianiny a $45 traffic ticket for negligent driving. He paid the ticket before he was indicted on a manslaughter charge. He appealed the manslaughter case before it went to trial, claiming double jeopardy. Maryland's high court agreed, ruling that the evidence to be used to prove manslaughter was essentially the "same conduct" used to prove the negligent driving case. And by paying the ticket, Gianiny had been convicted and could not be convicted a second time.

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