Legal dance: Washington appears in court

He sat in a chair wearing the black-and-white uniform of inmates on Avon Street. Nathan Antonio Washington, the man charged in two assaults attributed to the serial rapist, listened on video from jail to events taking place at 10am today in Charlottesville General District Court.

A Charlottesville grand jury indicted Washington August 20 on six charges in the brutal November 2002 rape of a woman in the Willoughby subdivision. When Washington was arrested August 13, warrants charged him with two counts in that attack. Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman made a motion to drop the two charges– nolle prosequi, in legal Latin lingo– but Washington defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana objected. Wait, wondered legal novices in the courtroom. Why would Quagliana object to the prosecution dropping charges against her client?

Legal expert David Heilberg calls such maneuvers "pretty typical." The state wants to replace the warrants with direct indictments, and the defense objects for two reasons: in the hope that jeopardy could be attached, or to get a preliminary hearing. "That's a lot safer than a trial," says Heilberg, and direct indictments from a grand jury would skip the preliminary hearing.

Jeopardy, which means the defendant can't be tried again, can occur if the Commonwealth moves to nolle prosequi after a witness has been sworn in a bench trial or a jury sworn in a jury trial– if the defense objects. That's very rare, and Heilberg says he's seen it happen only once in 28 years of practicing law.

Today's case is continued to October 4.

Heilberg makes one other prediction: expect a defense motion for a change of venue because of pretrial publicity.

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2 comments

I thought the term was "double jeopardy".

"Jeopardy, which means the defendant can't be tried again..."
I thought Jeopardy was a game show for nerdy adults 45-65.