Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Double Jeopardy No Bar to Arson, Mail Fraud, and Use of Fire Convictions

US v. Martin: Martin was the owner of an unsuccessful convenience store in Virginia. She was deep in debt, both the creditors and the commonwealth, and failed when she tried to sell the business. Unfortunately, at that point, she told others that she would "torch" the store "if she had the guts" and that "it's not going to be long and I'm not going to have to worry about any of it anyway." Ultimately, the store burned down. After collecting insurance proceeds for the fire, Martin was charged with staging the whole thing for her benefit. Specifically, she was charged with arson, using fire to commit another felony, mail fraud, and making false statements. She was convicted by a jury on all charges.

On appeal, Martin raised two arguments. First, she argued that the evidence was insufficient to sustain convictions for arson and use of fire. The Fourth Circuit rejected that argument, noting that while there was no direct evidence linking Martin to the fire, there was sufficient circumstantial evidence (motive, she was the last person in the building, lying to investigators) for a reasonable jury to conclude that she was guilty. Second, martin argued that her simultaneous convictions for arson, use of fire, and mail fraud violated the Double Jeopardy clause. Again, the Fourth Circuit disagreed, holding that separate sentence for use of fire was clearly meant to apply as punishment in addition to the underlying crime (mail fraud, in this case) and that arson and use of fire are separate offenses when analyzed under the Blockburger test.

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