Evans v. Michigan, 568 U.S. 313 (Feb. 20, 2013)

When the trial court enters a directed verdict of acquittal based on a mistake of law the erroneous acquittal constitutes an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes barring further prosecution. After the State rested in an arson prosecution, the trial court entered a directed verdict of acquittal on grounds that the State had provided insufficient evidence of a particular element of the offense. However, the trial court erred; the unproven “element” was not actually a required element at all. The Court noted that it had previously held in Arizona v. Rumsey, 467 U. S. 203, 211 (1984), that a judicial acquittal premised upon a “misconstruction” of a criminal statute is an “acquittal on the merits . . . [that] bars retrial.” It found “no meaningful constitutional distinction between a trial court’s ‘misconstruction’ of a statute and its erroneous addition of a statutory element.” It thus held that the midtrial acquittal in the case at hand was an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes.