What is Double Jeopardy?

What is Double Jeopardy?

What is Double Jeopardy?

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Perfetto, No. 7 EAP 2018.  In the case, the court held that Subsection 11(1)(ii) of the double jeopardy statute bars multiple prosecutions for the same criminal act.  This is particularly relevant in cases where defendants were issued traffic tickets with more serious criminal charges.  In Perfetto, Marc Perfetto was stopped and arrested for Driving Under the Influence.  During the arrest he was also charged with summary traffic violations.  The traffic violations were disposed before Mr. Perfetto’s DUI.  At the DUI hearing, Mr. Perfetto’s attorneys argued that Double Jeopardy and Subsection 110(1)(ii) of the double jeopardy statute barred the Commonwealth from prosecuting a second time for the same criminal episode.


The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania heard the case and agreed.  According to a majority in order to preclude prosecution due to a former prosecution for a different offense; 1.) the former prosecution must have resulted in an acquittal or conviction; 2.) the current prosecution is based on the same criminal conduct or arose from the same criminal episode as the former prosecution; 3.) the prosecutor was aware of the instant charges before commencement of the trial on the former charges; and 4.) the current offense occurred within the same judicial district as the former prosecution.

Since Perfetto’s traffic tickets resulted in conviction, “the DUI arose from the same criminal episode namely one traffic stop,” the prosecutor was aware of the DUI charges at the commencement of the traffic offenses, and the DUI offenses occurred in the same district as the traffic offenses, prosecution on the DUI was barred because defendant had already been convicted on the summary offense traffic tickets.  Therefore, the government was not permitted to proceed with prosecution against Marc Perfetto for Driving Under the Influence.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court cited the case, Commonwealth v. Campana, 304 A.2d 434 (Pa. 1973), which stands for the proposition that “the Double Jeopardy Clause requires a prosecutor to bring, in a single proceeding, all known charges against a defendant arising from a single criminal episode.”  Campana304 A.2d at 441.  This principle is at the substance of the Perfetto decision, which further defines the applicability of Campana. Both cases are raised regularly in Philadelphia Driving Under the Influence cases.

What is Double Jeopardy?

Compulsory Joinder and Double Jeopardy Clause

The implications of the Perfetto decision are huge.  In a wide range of criminal cases in Philadelphia, PA the defendant is arrested during a traffic stop.  Many of these cases start because of traffic violations.  The violations often provide the police with reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to stop and investigate.  If the police issue traffic violations incident to a serious arrest, Perfetto comes into play.  The government must ensure that the traffic violations are not disposed by conviction or acquittal before the more serious criminal charges are resolved.  If the Commonwealth fails to monitor the summary dockets the more serious criminal case may be legally barred pursuant to Perfetto and its progeny.  Our office recently handled such a case.

Our Victories:  Case Nolle Prossed Pursuant to Commonwealth v. Perfetto

In one recent case, our firm successfully dismissed criminal charges pursuant to Perfetto.  Defendant, S.C. was stopped for tinted windows.  During the routine traffic stop a firearm was recovered.  Defendant was then arrested and charged with 18 Pa.C.S. Section 6106, 6108 and related offenses.  Defendant was also issued a traffic ticket for tinted windows.  When S.C. missed the hearing in traffic court a conviction was entered against him in absentia.  When Copoulos became aware of the conviction in traffic court, her argued that further prosecution was barred in the firearms case since the traffic ticket resulted in conviction, the firearm charges were based on the same traffic stop, the prosecutor was aware of the firearm case at the traffic court hearing, and both offenses occurred in the county of Philadelphia, PA.  The court agreed and the Office of the District Attorney nolle prossed the case.  The defendant walked out of the courthouse without the stigma of a criminal conviction.  More importantly, S.C. will be able to file for a complete expungement pursuant to Pa. R. Crim. Pro. 790.  As a young man this will prevent the stigma of criminal charges from having a detrimental impact on his life

Legal Updates Since Perfetto Decision 11/03/19

On October 16, 2019, the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided the case of Commonwealth v. Johnson, No. 1233 EDA 2017.  Johnson seems to limit the Perfetto holding to prosecutions by courts with jurisdiction over the offense.  For example, in Johnson the Superior Court held that summary convictions for careless driving in Philadelphia Traffic Court, did not bar prosecution for criminal misdemeanor and felony offenses in Philadelphia Municipal Court.  According to the majority, because the Traffic Court lacked the jurisdiction to adjudicate the more serious criminal offenses double jeopardy pursuant to Pa. C.S.A. Section 110 is not prohibitive.  While the Johnson decision was the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and Perfetto was the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Johnson decision places reasonable parameters around the scope of the decision.  Therefore, the law continues to evolve and it is critical you speak with a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer about whether Pa. C.S.A. Section 111 bars subsequent prosecution in your particular case.  Despite the new case law, there may be arguments in specific situations to bar prosecutions.

Case Dismissal Under Double Jeopardy

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, and traffic tickets were issued incident to an arrest contact our office to see if Perfetto is applicable to your case.  We offer a free thirty minute no obligation consultation and can assist you in the successful disposition of your legal matter.  While every case is different, it is important to remember that an aggressive defense with a skilled criminal lawyer is the best way to maximize the chances of success.  Call our office at 267-535-9776 to discuss your criminal matter with a trained legal professional right now.

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Mark D. Copoulos

Mark D. Copoulos

From 2008-2011 Mark D. Copoulos worked for the First Judicial District, the Honorable Arnold, and the Honorable Shelley-Robins as interns and/or staff....

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