Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Harrison

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

October 12, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
STEVEN MICHAEL HARRISON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on Defendant Steven Michael Harrison's motion to dismiss the one-count indictment charging him with being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Doc. 15). Mr. Harrison contends that his prior Alabama state court conviction for being a prohibited person in possession of the same firearm at the same time and place bars his prosecution in this case pursuant to the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The court WILL DENY Mr. Harrison's motion because, under the “dual-sovereignty” doctrine, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not prohibit successive prosecutions by a state government and the federal government of the same person for the same conduct.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Harrison faces two prosecutions for being a felon in possession of a firearm on or about September 2, 2017. Mr. Harrison first pled guilty in the District Court of Jefferson County, Alabama on October 11, 2017 to being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm in violation of Ala. Code § 13A-11-72(a). (Doc. 15 at 10). Then on April 26, 2018, a federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment charging Mr. Harrison with being a prohibited person in possession of the same firearm on the same date in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Doc. 1). The possession of the firearm at issue in the Alabama state prosecution forms the basis of this federal prosecution. For this reason, Mr. Harrison contends that this federal prosecution subjects him to double jeopardy in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment and moves the court to dismiss the indictment.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The Double Jeopardy Clause provides that no person shall “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” U.S. Const. amend. V. But as the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed, “under what is known as the dual-sovereignty doctrine, a single act gives rise to distinct offenses-and thus may subject a person to successive prosecutions-if it violates the laws of separate sovereigns.” Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, 579 U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 1863, 1867 (2016). And the Supreme Court has long held that “the States are separate sovereigns from the Federal Government.” Id. (citing Heath v. Alabama, 474 U.S. 82, 88 (1985), Abbate v. United States, 359 U.S. 187, 195 (1959), and Bartkus v. Illinois, 359 U.S. 121, 132-137 (1959)). Accordingly, long-standing Supreme Court precedent establishes that a state prosecution does not bar a subsequent federal prosecution of the same person for crimes that consist of the same elements arising out of the same acts. See, e.g., Sanchez Valle, 136 S.Ct. at 1870; United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 317-18 (1978); United States v. Lanza, 260 U.S. 377, 382 (1922). Mr. Harrison's motion fails under this precedent.

         Nevertheless, although binding precedent is, after all, binding precedent, the court expresses concern with the vitality of the dual-sovereignty doctrine in light of Justice Ginsburg's concurring opinion in Sanchez Valle, in which Justice Thomas joined. In Sanchez Valle, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the dual-sovereignty doctrine but held that Puerto Rico was not a separate sovereign from the United States, so Puerto Rico and the United States could not both prosecute the same person for the same offense under the Double Jeopardy Clause. 136 S.Ct. at 1876-77.

         Justice Ginsburg joined the Court's opinion in Sanchez Valle because it correctly applied the controlling dual-sovereignty doctrine, but she wrote a concurring opinion “to flag a larger question that bears fresh examination . . . in a future case in which a defendant faces successive prosecutions by parts of the whole USA.” Id. at 1877 (Ginsburg, J., concurring). This case is such a case.

         In her well-reasoned concurring opinion, Justice Ginsburg questioned the constitutionality of the dual-sovereignty doctrine altogether. She wrote: “[t]he double jeopardy proscription is intended to shield individuals from the harassment of multiple prosecutions for the same misconduct. Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187, 78 S.Ct. 221, 2 L.Ed.2d 199 (1957). Current ‘separate sovereigns' doctrine hardly serves that objective.” Sanchez Valle, 136 S.Ct. at 1877 (Ginsburg, J., concurring).

         Justice Ginsburg acknowledged that the individual states and the federal government are parts of one whole and asked, “within that whole is it not ‘an affront to human dignity,' Abbate v. United States, 359 U.S. 187, 203, 79 S.Ct. 666, 3 L.Ed.2d 729 (1959) (Black, J., dissenting), ‘inconsistent with the spirit of [our] Bill of Rights,' Developments in the Law-Criminal Conspiracy, 72 Harv. L. Rev. 920, 968 (1959), to try or punish a person twice for the same offense?” Id. Notably, Justice Thomas joined in Justice Ginsburg's concurrence questioning the constitutionality of the dual-sovereignty doctrine to prosecute a person twice for the same conduct.

         The court asks the same question here. Mr. Harrison, a felon, possessed a firearm in Alabama on or about September 2, 2017. The District Court of Jefferson County, Alabama sentenced him to a term of three years' imprisonment for this conduct. Mr. Harrison now faces punishment from the federal government for the exact same conduct. If Mr. Harrison is convicted of the federal charge against him, he will indisputably be punished twice for the same conduct. This dual-punishment may entirely fail to serve the Double Jeopardy Clause's objective “to shield individuals from the harassment of multiple prosecutions for the same misconduct” and be an “affront to human dignity . . . inconsistent with the spirit of [our] Bill of Rights.” Sanchez Valle, 136 S.Ct. at 1877 (Ginsburg, J., concurring) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         The court understands the well-settled theory underlying the dual-sovereignty rule: an “offence” is a crime as defined by a “sovereign”; the states and the federal government are separate “sovereigns”; therefore, a single act violating both a federal law and a state law constitutes two distinct “offences.” See Heath, 474 U.S. at 88; Bartkus, 359 U.S. at 131; Lanza, 260 U.S. at 382. But the court nevertheless shares Justice Ginsburg's concerns and, for the following reasons, questions whether that theory produces a result that the framers of the Constitution intended the Double Jeopardy Clause to prevent.

         The theory underlying the dual-sovereignty doctrine rests on the Supreme Court's definition of “offence” found in Moore v. People of State of Illinois, 55 U.S. 13, 19 (1852). See Bartkus, 359 U.S. at 131 (calling Moore the “definitive statement” of the dual-sovereignty doctrine “which had been evolving”). In Moore, the Supreme Court found that “[a]n offence, in its legal signification, means the transgression of a law.” 55 U.S. at 19. Based on this definition of “offence, ” the Court continually reaffirmed the rule that “[t]he same act may be an offence or transgression of the laws of [two sovereigns].” Moore, 55 U.S. at 20; see, e.g., Wheeler, 435 U.S. at 317 (“The basis for this doctrine is that prosecutions under the laws of separate sovereigns do not, in the language of the Fifth Amendment, ‘subject [the defendant] for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy.'”); Lanza, 260 U.S. at 382 (“[A]n act denounced as a crime by both national and state sovereignties is an offense against the peace and dignity of both and may be punished by each.”).

         But the Supreme Court's definition of “offence” troubles this court when looking at the “common-law conception of crime as an offense against the sovereignty of the government” from which the Supreme Court derived the dual-sovereignty doctrine. Heath, 474 U.S. at 88. According to the Supreme Court, the common-law idea of “offence” incorporates “sovereignty”-no “offence” occurs without a “sovereignty.” But tracing the history of ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.