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UNITED STATES v. DICKERSON

December 22, 1958

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Robert Lee DICKERSON, Jr., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

This is a motion by the defendant to dismiss the indictment on the ground of former jeopardy.

The defendant, Robert Lee Dickerson, Jr., was arrested on a charge of robbery. As he was under 18 years of age, he was taken before the Juvenile Court of the District of Columbia. On August 18, 1958, a petition was filed in that court alleging that on July 15, 1958, he 'participated in the taking from Joseph D. Lavender, at gunpoint, a billfold and change carrier'. On August 22, 1958, Dickerson was brought before the judge. The files of the Juvenile Court contain the following record of the proceedings on that occasion:

 'Robert Lee Dickerson, Jr.: Mother present. Boy and mother waive right to counsel. Boy acknowledges the petition in that he held a toy gun in the incident. Court finds boy within its jurisdiction as a delinquent child. Case continued for social study and recommendation as to disposition. Boy remanded to D.C. Receiving Home meanwhile.'

 On September 9, 1958, jurisdiction of the case was waived by the Juvenile Court to the United States District Court. On November 3, 1958, the grand jury returned an indictment charging Dickerson with the commission of a robbery against Joseph D. Lavender, on or about July 15, 1958. The defendant then filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground of former jeopardy. The Government responded that, first, the Constitutional provision in regard to double jeopardy may not be invoked as a consequence of proceedings in the Juvenile Court, on the theory that this court is a civil and not a criminal tribunal; and second, that even if the provision were applicable, nevertheless, in this case jeopardy had not attached prior to the waiver of jurisdiction by that court.

 The Juvenile Court of the District of Columbia has original and exclusive jurisdiction of violations of law committed by persons under 18 years of age, D.C.Code, § 11-907. In cases of certain types, however, the court is empowered to waive its jurisdiction and order the juvenile held for trial under the regular procedure of the court which would have jurisdiction of the offense if committed by an adult, -- in this case the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The applicable statute (D.C.Code, Title 11, § 914) reads as follows:

 'If a child sixteen years of age or older is charged with an offense which would amount to a felony in the case of an adult, or any child charged with an offense which if committed by an adult is punishable by death or life imprisonment, the judge may, after full investigation, waive jurisdiction and order such child held for trial under the regular procedure of the court which would have jurisdiction of such offense if committed by an adult; or such other court may exercise the powers conferred upon the juvenile court in this Act in conducting and disposing of such cases.'

 There are two questions to be determined on this motion. The first is whether the Constitutional provision as to former jeopardy applies in respect to proceedings in the Juvenile Court.

 American and English jurisprudence is distinguished by its emphasis on personal freedom. Under this system of law, no person may be deprived of his liberty without due process of law. This basic principle dates back to the Magna Charta. In addition, the Constitution of the United States expressly surrounds every person with certain affirmative, specific safeguards against deprivation of liberty. This protection is not limited to criminal proceedings or to cases in a criminal court. It is present in any proceeding and in any tribunal if the liberty of the individual is involved. For example, an acquittal by a court-martial precludes a subsequent prosecution for the same offense in a civilian tribunal, Grafton v. United States, 206 U.S. 333, 27 S. Ct. 749, 51 L. Ed. 1084. Among these constitutional safeguards are the right of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, the privilege against self-incrimination found in the Fifth Amendment, and the bar against double jeopardy likewise contained in the Fifth Amendment. The last mentioned privilege is worded as follows:

 '* * * nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; * * *'

 The meaning of this clause has been recently explained by the Supreme Court in the following manner, Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187, 78 S. Ct. 221, 223, 2 L. Ed. 2d 199:

 'The constitutional prohibition against 'double jeopardy' was designed to protect an individual from being subjected to the hazards of trial and possible conviction more than once for an alleged offense.'

 In Ex parte Lange, 18 Wall. 163, 169, 21 L. Ed. 872, it was said:

 'The common law not only prohibited a second punishment for the same offence, but it went further and forbid a second trial for the same offence, whether the accused had suffered punishment or not, and whether in the former trial he had been acquitted or convicted.'

 It is unnecessary, therefore, to determine whether the Juvenile Court is a criminal court or, as is contended by the Government, a true civil court. Irrespective of this consideration, the constitutional limitations are applicable if the final action of the court may result in depriving a person of his liberty. Whether the enforced incarceration may be in a jail, penitentiary, reformatory, ...


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