In 2006, Travis Soto’s two-year old son died in what appeared to be an ATV accident. Mr. Soto was charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. He entered into a plea agreement, under which he pleaded guilty to child endangerment and the state dismissed the manslaughter charge. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, which he served. In 2016, Mr. Soto voluntarily appeared at the sheriff’s office and confessed to beating his son to death and staging the ATV accident. The state charged Mr. Soto with aggravated murder.
Mr. Soto moved to dismiss the murder charge in state court, arguing that the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on double jeopardy precluded the state from bringing the murder charge after previously dismissing its manslaughter charge under the plea agreement. The trial court denied Mr. Soto’s motion. He appealed, and the state appellate court reversed, finding in Mr. Soto’s favor that double-jeopardy rules did indeed bar the murder charge. The state appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which reversed the appellate court’s ruling, finding that a dismissal before trial occurred before Mr. Soto was placed in “jeopardy” for the manslaughter charge, so the new charge was not double jeopardy.
Mr. Soto then filed a federal habeas corpus petition—the current action—presenting effectively the same argument in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The district court denied the petition, and he appealed to the Sixth Circuit. As a threshold matter, Mr. Soto was required to make a “substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” A reviewing judge from the Sixth Circuit found that he cleared that threshold, allowing his appeal to proceed.
The Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on double jeopardy prevents a person from being placed in “jeopardy” for a second time for the same criminal charge. Under existing precedent, “jeopardy” attaches (a) when the jury is sworn in a jury trial, (b) when the first witness is sworn in a bench trial, or (c) in a guilty plea when it is entered. Mr. Soto will argue that jeopardy should also attach after one charge is dismissed as part of a plea bargain that includes guilty pleas to other charges. To do so would provide finality, which is the purpose of the double jeopardy rule.
Mr. Soto’s opening brief was initially due on September 13, 2022, but the Court granted multiple extensions. Mr. Soto filed his brief on December 5, and we filed our amicus brief on December 12. Appellee’s brief was filed February 2, 2023.