The case of the day is Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust (S. Ct. 2016). I’m sorry, readers who are looking for service of process or 1782 cases—you’ll have to stick it out for one more day of Puerto Rico coverage. By way of explanation, I take a particular interest in Puerto Rico status issues because the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the federal appellate court here in Boston, hears appeals from the US District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, and because the underlying issues have—for me at least—inherent political and legal interest.
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The case of the day is Puerto Rico v. Sánches Valle (S. Ct. 2016). I wrote about the case back in January. The issue is interesting: Sánches Valle was indicted by both a federal grand jury and by Puerto Rico prosecutors on gun trafficking charges. He pleaded guilty to the federal indictment and then moved to dismiss the Puerto Rico indictment on double jeopardy grounds. (For foreign readers, the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution provides: “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”). The main rule in this area is the so-called “dual sovereignty doctrine.” A single “sovereign” cannot put a defendant in jeopardy twice on the same charge, but separate “sovereigns”—for example, the United States and Massachusetts—can.
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Puerto Rico has been in the news a lot recently on account of its debt crisis. But there’s another interesting issue percolating, and it will be argued in the Supreme Court shortly. Is Puerto Rico a sovereign separate from the United States, as the states of the United States are, such that a person acquitted of a crime in the Puerto Rico courts can be prosecuted for the same conduct in the federal courts? Or does Puerto Rico lack sovereignty, in which case a second prosecution is barred?
Continue reading Puerto Rico Status in the Supreme Court