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New York judge cites double jeopardy in dismissing fraud charge

Readers may have heard the term “double jeopardy” before. In the legal world, the double jeopardy protection means that one cannot be tried for the same crime twice, with certain exceptions. It is a rule that protects people from having to repeatedly defend themselves from criminal charges based on the same accusations.

A New York woman serving eight months in jail for fraud will not face charges in the Bronx based on the same case, after a judge dismissed the indictment against her. The judge found that the crime with which she was charged in Supreme Court was not substantially different than the one she pleaded guilty to in a federal case.

The woman was prosecuted on the federal level for posing as the aunt of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. She claimed on Facebook to be raising money for funerals for the child and other victims. Donors gave nearly $5,000, but the money was returned after the fraud was discovered.

In June of last year, the woman pleaded guilty to wire fraud and making false statements and was sentenced to eight months behind bars. A month before that, a grand jury in the Bronx indicted her on first degree scheme to defraud and second degree identity theft. The defendant moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds of the double jeopardy protection.

One exception to double jeopardy holds that a second prosecution for the same crime can proceed if the crime the defendant is charged with the second time has “substantially different elements” from the first crime, making them “in the main clearly distinguishable.”

The judge found there were not substantial differences between the federal wire fraud statute and the first degree fraud statute that would justify allowing that charge to proceed. As for the identity theft charge, he noted that the child did not have a paternal aunt, so the defendant was not posing as an actual person. That charge was also dismissed.

Source: New York Law Journal, “State Indictment Is Dismissed in Sandy Hook ID Theft Case,” Andrew Keshner, April 8, 2014

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