There’s a problem with one of two new charges filed against “Barefoot Bandit” Colton Harris-Moore: He already pleaded guilty to it.
The youthful thief who gained international notoriety has acknowledged dozens of crimes and was sentenced to seven years in prison as part of a 2011 plea deal resolving charges against him in three Washington counties.
Among those crimes was first-degree theft for stealing a Cirrus airplane from Anacortes in Skagit County in February 2010 and flying it to Orcas Island in San Juan County.
Earlier this month, Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich, who refused to take part in the plea deal, charged Harris-Moore with second-degree burglary for breaking into Anacortes Airport, and first-degree theft for taking the plane.
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Weyrich said he didn’t join the plea deal because he wanted Harris-Moore to answer for the Skagit County crimes in a local courtroom. Weyrich did not immediately return a call or an email seeking comment Monday.
Charging Harris-Moore with theft of the plane — a crime for which he’s already serving prison time — violates his Fifth Amendment right against being prosecuted twice for the same crime.
Harris-Moore, 21, has not previously pleaded guilty to breaking into Anacortes Airport, so there is no double-jeopardy issue with Skagit County pursuing the burglary charge.
“If it’s the same statute, for the same theft, once you’ve been convicted, you can’t be convicted again,” said University of Washington criminal-law professor James Hardisty. “That’s double jeopardy.”
Harris-Moore’s lawyer, John Henry Browne, said last week it was “juvenile” for Weyrich to pursue further charges, and the realization that Harris-Moore had already pleaded guilty to one of the latest charges made it “even more silly.”
“Obviously Mr. Weyrich doesn’t know the background of this case,” Browne said. “Maybe this will make him change his mind.”
San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord previously charged Harris-Moore with theft of the plane because he landed it in San Juan County. The crime was not included in the original charges but was added just days before Harris-Moore entered his plea in December 2011.
“That was one of the last things we added,” Gaylord said. “It was the desire of the Washington prosecutors who were participating in the negotiations to wrap as many charges up in this as we could. If one prosecutor was going to reserve charging decisions for a later date, there were going to be as few decisions as possible that were going to be reserved.”
The reason was partly to secure restitution for as many victims as possible, and partly to bring finality to the case, Gaylord said.
He said charging Harris-Moore again in Skagit County is a double-jeopardy violation.
Harris-Moore was a thorn for Western Washington police since boyhood, and after escaping from a halfway house in 2008, he led authorities on a two-year game of cat-and-mouse in stolen cars, boats and airplanes. His cross-country run ended in 2010 after he crash-landed a stolen plane in the Bahamas and was arrested.
He has sold his story rights to Fox, which is making a movie. Proceeds will be used to repay his victims under a plea deal resolving federal charges.
Generally speaking, people can be prosecuted twice for the same actions if the charges come from governments that derive their powers from different sources. For example, if someone commits an act that violates state and federal law, both state and federal prosecutors can file charges.
However, the charge against Harris-Moore in Skagit County references the same actions — and same state law — to which he pleaded guilty in San Juan County. Both Skagit and San Juan counties derive their powers from Washington state law.