The District of Columbia can't get "multiple 'bites' at the proverbial 'apple,'" the city's highest court ruled today, finding that city lawyers couldn't pursue charges that the U.S. attorney's office had already brought and been dismissed.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has long faced questions about who prosecutes what in Washington. Under the city's unique set-up, the U.S. attorney's office serves as the city's local prosecutor in almost all cases, but the D.C. attorney general's office does have prosecutorial authority over certain misdemeanors.
In the underlying case, Jermaine Washington was charged in connection with a November 2005 police chase, in which he allegedly sped, ignored traffic signals and collided with another vehicle. According to today's opinion (PDF), the D.C. Office of the Attorney General and the U.S. attorney's office both brought charges against him, unbeknownst to each other. Two charges – reckless driving and leaving after colliding (personal injury) – were brought in both cases.
Washington successfully moved to dismiss the U.S. attorney's case in District of Columbia Superior Court after the government failed to bring him to trial within the required time frame, according to today's opinion.
Around the same time, the D.C. attorney general's office was pursuing its charges against Washington, also in Superior Court. Washington moved to dismiss the two overlapping charges, but Judge Frederick Weisberg denied that motion. A jury found Washington guilty of the two overlapping charges, as well as leaving after colliding (property damage) and operating a motor vehicle without a permit. He did not appeal the second two convictions.
The attorney general's office argued that the convictions should stand because it never gave the U.S. attorney's office consent to bring the two charges at issue. Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, writing for the three-judge panel, said she was not persuaded, since the city conceded that it would have given consent if the U.S. attorney's office had asked.
Blackburne-Rigsby wrote that when Washington asked for a speedy trial, it was reasonable for him to assume that the dismissal of any charges would be considered the "final resolution" of those charges in the District. Allowing the attorney general's office to "re-prosecute" the case would undermine the effectiveness of rules requiring dismissal if prosecutors fail to meet time limitations, she wrote.
Chief Judge Eric Washington and Senior Judge Inez Smith Reid also heard the case.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office, Ted Gest, said they are reviewing the opinion. Washington's attorney, solo practitioner Paul Riley, could not immediately be reached today for comment.