Philip Chinn


The Double Jeopardy Clause provides that no person will “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” On March 10, 2004, Pedro Cabrera made a statement that cost him fourteen years of his life: he proclaimed his innocence. The court accepted this plea and ordered a finding of guilty with a recommended sentence of six years. However, during an exchange that followed, Mr. Cabrera asserted that he was actually innocent but that he preferred “to take the time” instead of proceeding to trial. The judge then refused to accept Mr. Cabrera’s guilty plea, vacated the entry of the plea, and set the matter for trial. Mr. Cabrera was convicted of all counts at a bench trial and sentenced to twenty years. In 2010, Mr. Cabrera filed a habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that his conviction violated the Fifth Amendment prohibition on double jeopardy because his guilty plea had been vacated and he had been forced to stand trial. Mr. Cabrera’s petition was denied. Mr. Cabrera’s case indicates that the current split over the constitutionality of a court accepting a guilty plea and then sua sponte vacating that plea, forcing the defendant to stand trial, has ramifications beyond trial courts: the uncertainty itself dooms habeas corpus petitions to fail. Part II examines the underpinnings of the traditional Double Jeopardy rule. Part III analyzes the circuit split that developed in the wake of Ohio v. Johnson. Part IV discusses and evaluates the policy justifications and implications for both the traditional rule and the new rule. Part IV also assesses whether jeopardy has attached based on an evaluation of the defendant’s finality interest and the potential for prosecutorial over-reaching. Part V provides a brief conclusion.