U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to decide double-jeopardy issue in political bribery case

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether double jeopardy bars the retrial of a corporate president and a Puerto Rican senator convicted of federal bribery charges.

The corporate president, Juan Bravo-Fernandez, was accused of financing a May 2005 Las Vegas trip by Hector Martinez-Maldonado, who served in the Puerto Rico Senate at the time, report SCOTUSblog, the Associated Press and Reuters. Bravo-Fernandez was accused of paying for the trip and tickets to a boxing match in connection with the senator’s support of two bills.

The men were convicted of violating a federal law barring federal program bribery, but acquitted of conspiring and traveling to commit the bribery. The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the bribery convictions in 2013 because of incorrect jury instructions.

Prosecutors sought to retry the men on the vacated conviction. Defense lawyers argued retrial was barred because the jury necessarily found that the defendants didn’t violate the bribery statute when it acquitted them on the related charges of traveling and conspiring to commit the bribery. The acquittal had a preclusive effect on retrial of the bribery count, the defense argued.

The case went back to the 1st Circuit, which held double jeopardy didn’t bar retrial on the bribery charge.

According to the cert petition (PDF), “Federal courts of appeals and the states’ highest courts are hopelessly divided on this question. … By eliminating the consequences that otherwise would flow from split verdicts, the 1st Circuit’s decision creates perverse incentives for prosecutors both to bring duplicative charges and to advocate overreaching interpretations of criminal statutes.”

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