Jessica Williams' Attorney Argues Double Jeopardy

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(Feb. 15) -- Jessica Williams is hoping a three-judge federal panel will overturn her conviction under Nevada's "Driving Under the Influence" law. Williams was found guilty of having marijuana in her system, when she veered off I-15 and killed six teens doing work in the median. Eyewitness News reporter Brian Allen reports from San Francisco, where Williams' attorney presented the case.

Nevada revised Statute 484-3795. The state's "Driving Under the Influence" law outlines six factors used to determine if someone is impaired. When Jessica Williams went on trial in 2001, she was charged under two of those factors. She was found not guilty of being under the influence of marijuana, but guilty of having trace amounts of the drug in her system.

The judge in the Williams case ruled the two criteria counted as two separate charges. But Williams' attorney John Watkins believes his client is the victim of double jeopardy, which is being tried for one crime twice, and questions how a person can be found not guilty and then guilty of violating the same law.

State of Nevada attorneys fired back. Victor Schulze says state law allows alternative charging to give prosecutors flexibility in building a case and that it does not constitute double jeopardy.

Attorney John Watkins believes since both verdicts stem from the same state law, they should cancel each other out.

If the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with Watkins and agrees Williams' constitutional rights to a fair trial were violated, she could be released from the state women's prison in Las Vegas where she's serving a sentence of 18 to 48 years.

The 9th Circuit is not expected to issue a ruling for several weeks. And even when the decision does come down, it's not likely to be the final word.

Both sides say they're willing to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Feb. 14) -- Tuesday morning, a three judge federal panel in San Francisco will be asked to overturn the 2001 conviction of Jessica Williams. Williams was found guilty four years ago of driving her car into six teen-agers who were picking up trash along I-15, killing them. Williams' attorney will argue state prosecutors violated Nevada law when charging his client, and that she should be released from prison as a result.

Williams' appeal centers around Nevada Revised Statute 484.3795 , which is the state's DUI law. One section deals with a suspect having drugs in their system. Another, if the suspect was under the influence of those drugs.

State prosecutors argue the statute allows flexibility in how a suspect can be charged offering multiple avenues to determine innocence or guilt. Jessica Williams' attorney John Watkins believes it unfairly stacks the deck against DUI suspects. "If you're impaired then you should be found guilty of being impaired and punished accordingly. But when you're not impaired you should not be put in jail or punished," Watkins said.

When Jessica Williams hit and killed six teenaged trash collectors in March of 2000, she admitted smoking marijuana hours before the accident, but said the accident was the result of falling asleep behind the wheel. Blood tests showed minute traces of the drug.

At trial in 2001, a Clark County jury ruled Williams was not guilty of being under the influence, but guilty of having marijuana in her system using statue 484 as a guide for both decisions. Watkins wants to know how a person can be found guilty and not guilty of violating the same law, comparing the situation to baseball. "You're safe and you're out. Wait a minute. I'm safe and I'm out? You're safe and your out. That's what we have."

Tuesday in San Francisco, before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Watkins will argue Williams is the victim of double jeopardy; being tried for the same crime twice, which is a violation of both state and federal law. "You can't be found guilty and not guilty on the same charge."

Jessica Williams is currently serving an 18 to 48 year prison sentence in Las Vegas. Attorney Watkins says she is there as a result of a legal system violating its own rules. The state says she is there because six people are dead.

John Watkins says there are other problems with this case He claims he was never allowed to test the blood sample drawn from Williams following the accident. The state says that was the result of Watkins not paying attention to the case. Watkins disputes that.


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