Collateral Estoppel


IV. Collateral estoppel

Maryland common law recognizes collateral estoppel as a form of double jeopardy. Though applicable in civil causes, collateral estoppel, when applied to criminal cases, acquires a constitutional dimension by reason of the Double Jeopardy Clause. In White v. State, 109 Md. App. 350 (1996), the Court of Special Appeals held:

Collateral estoppel involves preclusion of a claim when the material issue has been litigated and decided in a prior suit, though that that prior suit may have involved a completely different cause of action. Thus, a second prosecution is barred where the ultimate issues to be litigated have already been resolved in the accused's favor in a prior action even though the offenses might not have otherwise been the same. Indeed, the collateral estoppel form of double jeopardy is not based upon an identity of the offenses, but, rather, upon a common necessary factual component.
On review of a claim invoking the collateral estoppel aspect of double jeopardy, a court is not to be concerned with whether the trial court was right or wrong, but, rather, whether the judgment reflects a resolution of factual elements of the offense involved. While the analysis focuses on what the fact finder did or must have found, the reviewing court may examine the judge's express basis for the ruling in order to determine if the judge resolved in the defendant's favor an ultimate factual issue essential to both counts. In undertaking this inquiry, therefore, [a court must] examine the substance of what occurred, not merely its procedural form.

Id. at 357-58 (citations, quotations, and alterations omitted).

A. Collateral estoppel is a double jeopardy concept

In Ashe, 397 U.S. at 444, the Supreme Court held that double jeopardy precludes relitigation of an issue that was expressly or implicitly decided by the jury's acquittal in a previous trial. In Ashe, the defendant was charged with robbing four persons in one robbery. Evidence of the defendant's criminal agency was weak, and the jury acquitted the defendant. The State then found a fifth victim of the same robbery and charged the defendant with that robbery.

The Court held that the State was collaterally estopped from charging the defendant with robbery of that other victim who was present during the robbery for which the defendant was acquitted. Whoever robbed the first four victims robbed the fifth victim, and the jury verdict implicitly stated that that person was not the defendant.


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