Successive Prosecutions for “the Same Offense”.

Successive prosecutions raise fundamental double jeopardy concerns extending beyond those raised by enhanced and multiple punishments. It is more burdensome for a defendant to face charges in separate proceedings, and if those proceedings are strung out over a lengthy period the defendant is forced to live in a continuing state of uncertainty. At the same time, multiple prosecutions allow the state to hone its trial strategies through successive attempts at conviction.157 In Brown v. Ohio,158 the Court, apparently for the first time, applied the same evidence test to bar successive prosecutions in state court for different statutory offenses involving the same conduct. The defendant had been convicted of “joyriding,” defined as operating a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent, and was then prosecuted and convicted of stealing the same automobile. Because the state courts had conceded that joyriding was a lesser included offense of auto theft, the Court observed that each offense required the same proof and for double jeopardy purposes met the Blockburger test. The second conviction was overturned.159 Application of the same principles resulted in a holding that a prior conviction of failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident did not preclude a second trial for involuntary manslaughter, because failing to reduce speed was not a necessary element of the statutory offense of manslaughter, unless the prosecution in the second trial had to prove failing to reduce speed to establish this particular offense.160 In 1990, the Court modified the Brown approach, stating that the appropriate focus is on same conduct rather than same evidence.161 That interpretation held sway only three years, however, before being repudiated as “wrong in principle [and] unstable in application.”162 The Brown Court had noted some limitations applicable to its holding,163 and more have emerged subsequently. Principles appropriate in the “classically simple” lesser-included-offense and related situations are not readily transposable to “multilayered conduct” governed by the law of conspiracy and continuing criminal enterprise, and it remains the law that “a substantive crime and a conspiracy to commit that crime are not the ‘same offense’ for double jeopardy purposes.”164 For double jeopardy purposes, a defendant is “punished . . . only for the offense of which [he] is convicted”; a later prosecution or later punishment is not barred simply because the underlying criminal activity has been considered at sentencing for a different offense.165 Similarly, recidivism-based sentence enhancement does not constitute multiple punishment for the “same” prior offense, but instead is a stiffened penalty for the later crime.166


See Grady v. Corbin, 495 U.S. 508, 518–19 (1990). back
432 U.S. 161 (1977). Cf. In re Nielsen, 131 U.S. 176 (1889) (prosecution of Mormon for adultery held impermissible following his conviction for cohabiting with more than one woman, even though second prosecution required proof of an additional fact—that he was married to another woman). back
See also Harris v. Oklahoma, 433 U.S. 682 (1977) (defendant who had been convicted of felony murder for participating in a store robbery with another person who shot a store clerk could not be prosecuted for robbing the store, since store robbery was a lesser-included crime in the offense of felony murder). back
Illinois v. Vitale, 447 U.S. 410 (1980). back
Grady v. Corbin, 495 U.S. 508 (1990) (holding that the state could not prosecute a traffic offender for negligent homicide because it would attempt to prove conduct for which the defendant had already been prosecuted—driving while intoxicated and failure to keep to the right of the median). A subsequent prosecution is barred, the Court explained, if the government, to establish an essential element of an offense, will prove conduct that constitutes an offense for which the defendant has already been prosecuted. Id. at 521. back
United States v. Dixon, 509 U.S. 688, 709 (1993) (applying Blockburger test to determine whether prosecution for a crime, following conviction for criminal contempt for violation of a court order prohibiting that crime, constitutes double jeopardy). back
The Court suggested that if the legislature had provided that joyriding is a separate offense for each day the vehicle is operated without the owner’s consent, so that the two indictments each specifying a different date on which the offense occurred would have required different proof, the result might have been different, but this, of course, met the Blockburger problem. Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161, 169 n.8 (1977). The Court also suggested that an exception might be permitted where the State is unable to proceed on the more serious charge at the outset because the facts necessary to sustain that charge had not occurred or had not been discovered. Id. at 169 n.7. See also Jeffers v. United States, 432 U.S. 137, 150–54 (1977) (plurality opinion) (exception where defendant elects separate trials); Ohio v. Johnson, 467 U.S. 493 (1984) (trial court’s acceptance of guilty plea to lesser included offense and dismissal of remaining charges over prosecution’s objections does not bar subsequent prosecution on those “remaining” counts). back
United States v. Felix, 503 U.S. 378, 389 (1992). The fact that Felix constituted a “large exception” to Grady was one of the reasons the Court cited in overruling Grady. United States v. Dixon, 509 U.S. 688, 709–10 (1993). back
Witte v. United States, 515 U.S. 389 (1995) (consideration of defendant’s alleged cocaine dealings in determining sentence for marijuana offenses does not bar subsequent prosecution on cocaine charges). back
Monge v. California, 524 U.S. 721, 728 (1998). back