Double Jeopardy and Multiple Acts

I’m having trouble wrapping my head around when criminal acts are considered singular or multiple for double jeopardy purposes.

Suppose I illegally sell you one prescription pill on July 1 and another on July 2. I understand that I have committed two distinct crimes. However, if I sold you two pills on July 1, it would only be one crime. I understand that distinction to be because I had the mens rea and the actus rea on two separate occasions, and it is fair to punish me for both.

At least in my state, one can be charged with separate counts of sexual assault that occur during a single episode. If one touches a woman’s vagina, and then 1/2 second later, her breasts, then that is two separate crimes, even if done in one single assault.

However, if I fire a gun at someone and kill them, of course that is one count of murder. If the same bullet goes through my intended target, killing him, and the person behind him, I am charged with two counts of murder. Same with drunk driving deaths: if I run over 30 people, I am charged with 30 counts of DUI causing death. How can I be charged with two separate crimes for one act?

Under that theory, say I sold you a 500mg pill. Could I be charged 500 times, one for each mg sold? How about one for each molecule of the substance?

It seems contradictory that in some circumstances one criminal act can lead to multiple charges, but in other circumstances you cannot charge someone with multiple charges as it is held to violate double jeopardy concerns.

Any suggestions to help me with this?

Need answer fast?

Offenses are not separate for double jeopardy purposes if committed during a continuous interval to further a single goal, while sharing a common factual basis.

So the 500 mg pill, even if we could imagine it consisting of 500 smoshed tgether 1 mg chunks, is still one transaction: all 500 chunks are sold during a single continuous transaction, to further the same goal, and share identical factual bases.

Now let’s talk about the bullet. It kills your target, passes through him, and kills a bystander. No question that this is part of the same continuous interval. But the same goal is not shared. Your goal in shooting the first person was shooting the first person, and your goal in shooting the second person was shooting the second person. (But wait! I hear you cry. It was not! I bore the second person no animus! Sure you did, by the doctrine of transferred intent).

Even with a general intent crime like manslaughter, the factual bases for each death differ.

There’s a concept, in Texas at least, of the “allowable unit of prosecution”. At the core of this concept is whether the offense is conduct-oriented or result-oriented. Murder, and assaultive crimes in general, are result-oriented offenses, Each dead body, each person assaulted, is a single offense which may be prosecuted. A crime like reckless driving, on the other hand, is a conduct-oriented offense, in which it is the conduct rather than the result that is the focus of the crime, no matter how many people are put in danger.

Sexual assault can get complex, but generally different subsections of the statute are considered different offenses even if they occur in the same transaction (penetration of the genitals and penetration of the anus can be prosecuted separately).

So, in your example of selling drugs: one sale on one day, being a single instance of conduct, would be one complete offense. Selling again the second day would be a second offense. Depending on your jurisdiction, there may be rules that would allow the State to aggregate the amounts of the sales to reach a higher level of offense, rather than prosecute them separately.

But what if your single goal is to shoot both persons, and you line them up before firing?

Then you have the goal of shooting the first person, and the goal of shooting the second person, and a factual basis to support each one. You don’t really get to define what your goal was.

What if my goal is to see how large a caliber bullet I need to kill two people with one shot? I could even provide evidence. I could shoot pairs of people with progressively larger bullets, until they both die reliably.

Now, admittedly each shooting of a pair would be a separate crime, but each PAIR should be one crime.

Alas, the justice system has gotten so vindictive – to the point of stifling scientific inquiry. :rolleyes:

What if I divide my 500mg pill into 500 1mg chunks, and I have 500 separate goals to sell each chunk individually? But I happen to find a buyer who will take all 500mg and lets me smoosh them together into 1 pill.

Since you are looking for a factual answer I’ll move this to GQ.

In Double Jeopardy the clues are more difficult and the values are doubled.

You left out “AND it was in a school zone AND I have it delivered by a sex slave!”

I thought that was implied.

For a lot of situations, the prosecution knows that the sentences for multiple occurrences of the same non-horrid crime will probably be served concurrently.

It would take a lot of hate from the DA and everyone else to get consecutive sentencing. So why waste time with a bunch of different charges, each one of which would have to be proven on its own?

OTOH, we now have 3 strikes laws so if the DA needs to run up his numbers before the next election, those 3 instances of the same crime might be the ticket to add one to the lifetime sentence column.