Expansive Congressional Authorization for Government Appeals in Criminal Cases

In U.S. v. Stanton, case. no. 06-10519 (9th Cir. August 31, 2007), Stanton was convicted by a U. S. Magistrate Judge in a bench trial.  He appealed to the District Court, which reversed his conviction.

The government appealed from the District Court order.  Stanton makes a two-pronged challenge to the government’s right to appeal.

First, he contends that jurisdiction is lacking because the government may appeal only where authorized by Congress and the Criminal Appeals Act, 18 USC §3731, does not explicitly authorize the government to appeal from a district court order reversing a conviction entered by a magistrate and ordering an entry of acquittal.  Right on both counts, says the court, but immaterial.  Section 3731 is expansive, not restrictive, and essentially authorizes appeal by the government so long as it does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.  Since reversing the district court here would reinstate Stanton’s conviction without the need for a retrial, the Double Jeopardy Clause is not violated.

Second, Stanton contends that Section 3731 does not authorize an appeal in his case because it only authorizes appeals from the dismissal of an indictment or information, and he was charged by way of criminal complaint.  Once again, the liberal construction of Section 3731 comes to the government’s rescue.  Section 3731 itself provides that “[t]he provisions of this section shall be liberally construed to effectuate its purposes.”  Since the Supreme Court has identified the section’s purpose as “avoiding the creation of nonconstitutional barriers to appeal,” and Stanton identifies no constitutional reason why Section 3731 should not apply in cases where the defendant is charged by criminal complaint, the distinction does not prevent appeal.

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