Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

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Law School Case Brief

Heath v. Alabama - 474 U.S. 82, 106 S. Ct. 433 (1985)


In applying the dual sovereignty doctrine, the crucial determination is whether the two entities that seek successively to prosecute a defendant for the same course of conduct can be termed separate sovereigns. This determination turns on whether the two entities draw their authority to punish the offender from distinct sources of power. Thus, the court has uniformly held that the states are separate sovereigns with respect to the federal government because each state's power to prosecute is derived from its own "inherent sovereignty," not from the federal government.


Petitioner Heath hired two men to kill his wife. They kidnapped petitioner's wife from her home in Alabama and drove a short distance to Georgia where they shot her and abandoned her body in Georgia. Petitioner was charged with murder in Georgia and pled guilty in exchange for a sentence of life imprisonment. He was subsequently indicted for murder during a kidnapping by a grand jury in Alabama, and was tried in an Alabama trial court. The Alabama court rejected his double jeopardy claim and sentenced him to death upon his conviction. After exhausting his state appeals, petitioner filed a petition for writ of certiorari raising double jeopardy claims, but no due process objections were asserted. The Court granted certiorari limited to the question whether petitioner's Alabama conviction was barred under the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution.


Was the Alabama conviction barred by double jeopardy?




The United States Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. It held that a single act constituted an offense against each sovereign whose laws are violated by that act and, accordingly, each state was permitted to prosecute. Under the dual sovereignty doctrine, successive prosecutions by two states for the same conduct are not barred by the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment ; as such, Alabama was not barred from trying the defendant for the capital offense of murder during a kidnapping after Georgia had convicted him of murder based on the same homicide.

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