The test articulated in Blockburger serves to identify congressional intent to impose separate sanctions for multiple offenses arising in the course of a single act or transaction. In determining whether separate punishment might be imposed, Blockburger requires that courts examine the offenses to ascertain whether each provision requires proof of a fact which the other does not. As Blockburger and other decisions applying its principle reveal, the Court's application of the test focuses on the statutory elements of the offense. If each requires proof of a fact that the other does not, the Blockburger test is satisfied, notwithstanding a substantial overlap in the proof offered to establish the crimes.
Petitioner prisoners challenged the affirmance of convictions by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for both conspiring to violate and violating 18 U.S.C.S. § 1955. Petitioners were granted certiorari to the Court to resolve the conflicts caused by the federal courts' disparate approaches to the application of Wharton's Rule to conspiracies that violate § 1955. Petitioners contended that Wharton's Rule (Rule) did not permit prosecution and punishment for both offenses under § 1955.
Were the convictions of the prisoners in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 1955?
The Court affirmed the convictions of petitioner prisoners for substantive and conspiracy counts for which they were charged because the statutory definition of the offense, and the intent of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, indicated that there was no merger of the conspiracy and the substantive offense. The Court held that the conduct proscribed by § 1955 was significantly different from the offenses to which the Rule traditionally had been applied. The Court found that under § 1955 any harm was not restricted to the parties to the agreement and that those prosecuted for the conspiracy were not necessarily the same persons prosecuted for the commission of the substantive offense. The Court found that Congress defined the substantive offense punished by § 1955 in a manner that failed to specifically invoke the concerns that underlie the law of conspiracy. The Court held, therefore, that the history and structure of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Pub. L. 91-452, 84 Stat. 922, manifested a clear legislative judgment that more than outweighed a presumption of merger between the conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C.S. § 1955 and the consummation of the substantive offense.