Wednesday, September 14, 2016

First case for SCOTUS this fall: The Fifth Amendment's double jeopardy clause

The first case of the Supreme Court’s new term, which begins next month is Bravo-Fernandez v. United States.  According to Garrett Epps in The Atlantic, the case asks this question: when a defendant is validly acquitted for a crime that involves another crime, under what circumstances can the government retry for the underlying crime? Thus invoking the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S Constitution.
To put it more precisely, if a jury decides that two men didn’t conspire to exchange a bribe, and didn’t travel to exchange a bribe, when can the government later try them for actually exchanging the bribe? In double jeopardy law, the issue is whether the bribe itself is an “ultimate fact” that was clearly decided by the jury; if it is, then there can’t be a second trial.  
In 2005, Puerto Rico Sen. Hector Martínez–Maldonado supported legislation that benefited Ranger American, a security company owned by Juan Bravo-Fernandez. As the bill progressed through the commonwealth’s Legislative Assembly, Bravo-Fernandez treated the senator to a lavish Las Vegas weekend, including hotel, meals, and a $1,000 ticket to a WBC Middleweight title bout. (For those scoring at home, Winky Wright edged out Puerto Rican hero Tito Trinidad.) Shortly after the trip, the bill passed. Federal authorities indicted the pair for allegedly conspiring to give and accept a bribe in connection with a federal program, traveling across state lines to do so, and exchanging the bribe itself.
In white-collar crime law, Randall Eliason of American University recently explained, “broad statutes prohibit things like fraud or corruption, and prosecutors are entrusted to exercise their discretion to determine how to apply those laws.” Eliason notes, however, that “in a series of decisions over the past few years, the Supreme Court has signaled it is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with such a system.”
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