SMALIS V. PENNSYLVANIA, 476 U. S. 140 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Smalis v. Pennsylvania, 476 U.S. 140 (1986)

Smalis v. Pennsylvania

No. 85-227

Argued April 2, 1986

Decided May 5, 1986

476 U.S. 140


Petitioners, husband and wife, who owned a building housing a restaurant and apartments, were charged with various crimes in connection with a fire in the building that resulted in the killing of two tenants. At the close of the prosecution's case in chief at their bench trial in a Pennsylvania state court, petitioners challenged the sufficiency of the evidence by filing a demurrer pursuant to a Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure. The trial court sustained the demurrer, and the Pennsylvania Superior Court quashed the Commonwealth's appeal on the ground that it was barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, holding that the granting of a demurrer is not the functional equivalent of an acquittal, and that, for purposes of considering a plea of double jeopardy, a defendant who demurs at the close of the prosecution's case in chief "elects to seek dismissal on grounds unrelated to his factual guilt or innocence."

Held: The trial judge's granting of petitioners' demurrer was an acquittal under the Double Jeopardy Clause, and the Commonwealth's appeal was barred because reversal would have led to further trial proceedings. Whether the trial is to a jury or, as here, to the bench, subjecting the defendant to postacquittal factfinding proceedings going to guilt or innocence violates the Double Jeopardy Clause. Pp. 476 U. S. 144-146.

507 Pa. 344, 490 A.2d 394, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 476 U. S. 141

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