Las Vegas Sun

August 28, 2014

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Appeals court denies Williams’ petition

CARSON CITY -- A federal appeals court Thursday denied the petition of Jessica Williams, who claimed her constitutional rights were violated when she was convicted in the crash on Interstate 15 that killed six teenagers working on a highway cleanup crew.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument that Williams was subjected to double jeopardy at her trial. Now 26-years old, Williams was sentenced to 18 to 48 years in prison in 2001 for driving under the influence of a controlled substance resulting in the deaths.

Williams argued that the District Court jury in Las Vegas was given alternative verdicts. She was found guilty on six counts and acquitted on six counts.

The jury found her guilty of having a prohibited substance in her blood or urine when she hit the teens in March 2000. It acquitted her of six counts of being under the influence of a controlled substance.

She argued that her acquittal on one set of charges barred her conviction on the alternative verdict presented to the jury.

Williams, who was 20-years old at the time, admitted she smoked marijuana about two hours before the crash and that she had used Ecstasy the previous night. Her van drifted onto the median after she apparently fell asleep at the wheel.

Authorities discovered a pipe and marijuana residue and a plastic bag with marijuana in her car. And there were marijuana metabolites in her system.

The appeals court, in a decision written by Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, upheld U.S. District Judge Phillip Pro of Las Vegas who had denied the petition for a writ of habeas.

The Nevada Supreme Court had issued a ruling that while there were different theories presented to the jury, she was convicted of the underlying offense, driving with drugs in her system.

Nelson wrote in the unanimous decision of the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, "Because the Nevada Supreme Court's decision was consistent with clearly established federal law in holding that Williams has not twice been put in jeopardy for the same offense, we affirm the district court's denial of Williams' petition.

"Williams does not provide any authority for the proposition that a simultaneous conviction and acquittal of the self-same offense violates the Double Jeopardy Clause."

The court said the guilty and innocent verdicts occurred at the same trial, and therefore the protection of being tried a second time after being acquitted never came into play.

It said that "because the acquittal took place at the same time as the conviction, Williams never had a legitimate expectation of finality in the verdict of acquittal."

She was sentenced to six consecutive 3-8 year terms. Her first term expired in April, and she is eligible to go to the state Parole Board in April 2007 for release from her second term, a board spokesman said.

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