In Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1 (1978), the Supreme Court held that if an appellate court determined that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction, the conviction could be reversed and the defendant could not be retried due to the double jeopardy clause.
In 1974, Florida indicted Delbert Tibbs for firstdegree murder, felony murder, and rape. At trial, many issues were raised regarding the accuracy and truthfulness of the state’s only witness, Cynthia Nadeau. Nadeau admitted to using drugs just before the crimes occurred. She was also confused on the time of day the crimes occurred. The jury, nonetheless, convicted Tibbs. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court found many weaknesses in the state’s case and called for a retrial. The trial court then dismissed the indictment due to the double jeopardy clause. The Florida Supreme Court discussed the distinction between insufficient evidence and weight of evidence. A reversal of conviction based on the weight of evidence ‘‘does not mean that acquittal was the only proper verdict. Instead, the appellate court sits as a ‘thirteenth juror’ and disagrees with the jury’s resolution of the conflicting testimony.’’ Therefore, a retrial was permitted under the double jeopardy clause.
The Supreme Court upheld the Florida Supreme Court, distinguishing between a retrial based on a weighing of the evidence and an appellate court finding that a defendant is not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A retrial is permitted only when the reviewing court has not made an independent determination that the evidence does not support a finding of guilt.
KIRK L. KIMBER
Cases and Statutes Cited