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U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Rules Applying to Double Jeopardy Clause Cases: Bravo-Fernandez v. United States

Supreme Court

For most people, the most notable component of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the right to remain silent (“[not] compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”). However, another important part of the Fifth Amendment is the so-called Double Jeopardy Clause.

Under the double jeopardy provisions of the amendment, “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” While this seems like a straightforward rule, many issues have arisen over the years as to exactly how this part of the amendment is to be enforced in certain situations.

Recently, the nation’s high court revisited the provision in light of a jury’s conviction as to one offense but acquittal as to related offenses in a case involving bribery of a public official.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Bravo-Fernandez v. United States, the first defendant was a state senator from Puerto Rico who was accused of accepting a bribe in exchange for helping get certain legislation through the senate that, if passed, would have led to substantial financial benefits to the business of the second defendant, who paid the bribe. They were indicted by a federal grand jury for, among other things, federal program bribery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666; conspiracy to violate § 666, in violation of U.S.C. § 371; and traveling in interstate commerce to further violations of § 666, in violation of the Travel Act, U.S.C. § 1952(a)(3)(A).

The case was tried to a jury and resulted in a conviction of the standalone § 666 bribery offense but acquittals on the conspiracy and Travel Act charges. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the § 666 convictions due to instructional error. According to that court, the trial court judge made a mistake when he was charging the jury as to what constitutes criminal conduct under the statute.

On remand, the defendants moved for a judgment of acquittal on the standalone § 666 charge, relying on the issue-preclusion component of the double jeopardy clause. According to the defendants, they could not be retried on that offense because the jury had necessarily determined that they were not guilty of violating this section when it acquitted them of the conspiracy and travel offenses. The district court denied the defendant’s motions, and the circuit court of appeals did likewise.

Issue

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the issue of whether the issue-preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy Clause bars the government from retrying defendants, such as the two men involved in the current case, after a jury has returned irreconcilably inconsistent verdicts of conviction and acquittal, and the convictions are later vacated for a legal error unrelated to the inconsistency.

Decision of the United States Supreme Court

The court affirmed, holding that the issue-preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy Clause did not bar the government from retrying the defendants, even though the jury had returned irreconcilably inconsistent verdicts, and their conviction had been later vacated. In so holding, the court noted that the conviction of the defendants herein had been vacated for a legal error that was unrelated to the jury’s inconsistent verdicts. However, had the conviction been overturned based on insufficient evidence, or if the trial error could resolve the apparent inconsistency in the verdicts, the Court noted that the defendants could not have been retried.

Talk to a Skilled Cape Cod Criminal Defense Attorney

The rules and procedures that apply in criminal cases are always evolving. To get reliable, up-to-date information about your legal rights in a criminal case, contact the knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at (888) 262-6664. We assist the criminally accused throughout Hyannis and Plymouth, as well as elsewhere in the Cape Cod area.

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United States Supreme Court Reverses Conviction in Massachusetts Stun Gun Possession Case – Caetano v. Massachusetts

United States Supreme Court Rejects “Reasonable Person” Standard for Determining Criminal Responsibility for Threatening Another – Elonis v. United States