The Alabama Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of a second criminal indictment against a defendant for charges related to a fatal car accident allegedly caused by defendant, who is accused of being drunk, speeding and veering into oncoming traffic.
The state had appealed trial court’s order as an abuse of discretion in Alabama v. Hendrix, arguing prosecutors had the right to file a second indictment, because defendant’s mental competence level had improved. The original indictment had been dismissed with prejudice when the court ruled defendant, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the crash, was not competent to stand trial and would not likely become competent in a reasonable amount of time for a trial.
Still, prosecutors may have another shot at bringing charges if they petition the trial court to modify its original ruling from a dismissal of the charges with prejudice to a dismissal of charges without prejudice.
To dismiss a charge “with prejudice” means the matter is closed and can’t be re-opened, whereas a dismissal of a charge without prejudice leaves the door open for a re-filing. However in some circumstances – this being one – the court can choose to modify that order.
However, prosecutors didn’t take that route in Hendrix, and instead simply refiled a second indictment.
According to court records, the incident that gave rise to this case was a May 2005 crash that occurred on U.S. Highway 278 in Double Springs. The driver of one of those vehicles was killed. The driver of the other, defendant, suffered severe injuries, including a traumatic brain injury. After conducting an investigation, defendant was indicted on charges of vehicular homicide by knowingly, willfully or with criminal negligence causing the death of decedent by committing three serious traffic violations, including DUI, speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road.
Because his injuries were so severe, he was sent to an area hospital for a complete mental evaluation. A neuropyschologist prepared a report concluding defendant was not competent to stand trial and could not be restored in a reasonable amount of time. Following a hearing in which these facts were weighed, the trial court dismissed the charges with prejudice. Prosecutors did not appeal.
Normally, this would be the end of it. However, eight years after the crash, prosecutors now assert defendant’s condition has significantly improved, and the charges should be refiled so that he can stand trial.
Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, claiming double jeopardy, and the court granted his request on double jeopardy grounds.
However, the appellate court did not weigh this aspect. The new charges were defeated by mere virtue of the fact that new charges can’t be filed where previously the court has issued a “with prejudice” dismissal.
Our Birmingham DUI defense attorneys recognize that if prosecutors successfully petition trial court to modify its “with prejudice” order, defendant may still have a valid defense on a claim of double jeopardy. This is a principle that holds defendants can’t be tried for the same matter twice. However, it could in some situations be applicable to orders for dismissal.