Bravo-Fernandez v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: November 29, 2016
  • Case #: 15-537
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

The Double Jeopardy Clause’s issue-preclusion component does not prevent the government from retrying a defendant following a jury’s return of irreconcilably inconsistent verdicts of conviction and acquittals where a legal error separate and apart from the inconsistencies led to the vacation of the convictions.

Petitioner and a co-defendant were indicted for federal bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and traveling in furtherance of bribery.  At trial they admitted to conspiring, and traveling, yet they contested the underlying bribery charge.  Nonetheless, the jury acquitted petitioner on the conspiracy and traveling charges, but convicted on the bribery count.  On appeal, the First Circuit vacated the bribery conviction, holding that a particular jury instruction, permitting the United States to present a “gratuity” theory, was not provided for by the statute. On remand, Petitioner argued that the double jeopardy clause prohibited retrial because the jury’s acquittals indicated the jury had “necessarily decided” Petitioner had not committed bribery. The district court, and the First Circuit disagreed.  The Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts’ decisions, rejecting petitioner’s contention that that the jury’s rejection of the conspiracy and traveling counts could only mean the remaining bribery count could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court held: “[t]he issue-preclusion component of the double jeopardy clause, which bars a second contest of an issue of fact or law raised and necessarily resolved by a prior judgment, does not bar the government from retrying defendants after a jury has returned irreconcilably inconsistent verdicts of conviction and acquittal and the convictions are later vacated for legal error unrelated to the inconsistency.” The burden is on the Petitioner to demonstrate the issue has been decided by a prior jury’s acquittal, and when the same jury returns “irreconcilable inconsistent verdicts on the issue in question, [petitioner] cannot meet this burden.”

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