Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. Luis M. Sanchez Valle

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: June 9, 2016
  • Case #: 15-108
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Kagan, J., delivered the Court's opinion, which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Alito, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Sotomayor, J., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

Pursuant to the dual-sovereignty doctrine, the United States and Puerto Rico may not prosecute a single person for the same offense under analogous criminal laws.

Respondents were indicted by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for selling a firearm without a permit. Based on the same offenses, Respondents pleaded guilty to violating analogous federal gun trafficking statutes. Subsequently, Respondents moved to dismiss the pending Commonwealth charges on double jeopardy grounds. The trial court dismissed the charges, but the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals reversed. The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico reversed and held that the Commonwealth’s prosecutions violated the Double Jeopardy Clause. The Double Jeopardy Clause provides that a person cannot be prosecuted twice for the same offense. However, under the dual-sovereignty doctrine, two prosecutions are not for the same offense if they are brought by separate sovereigns. To determine whether two governments are separate sovereigns for double jeopardy purposes, courts applies a historical test, asking whether the two entities derive from the same “ultimate source” of power. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the prosecutorial powers of Puerto Rico and the United States Government derive from the same ultimate source. Historically, Congress authorized, amended, and approved Puerto Rico’s Constitution. Since Puerto Rico’s authority to prosecute derives from the Constitution of Puerto Rico and Congress authorized Puerto Rico to make their Constitution, the Court reasoned that Congress is the original source of Puerto Rico’s prosecutorial powers, therefore; Respondents cannot be prosecuted by the United States Government and Puerto Rico for the same offense. AFFIRMED.

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