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Supreme Court rules against Puerto Rico in double jeopardy case

Supreme Court rules against Puerto Rico in double jeopardy case
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a person cannot be charged for the same crime in both Puerto Rico and the United States.

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In the 6-2 decision, the court held that the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution bars the two governments from prosecuting the same person for the same criminal conduct.

The case centers on Luis Sánchez Valle and Jaime Gómez Vázquez, who were indicted for illegally selling guns to an undercover police officer in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. While their charges were pending there, federal grand juries also indicted them, based on the same transactions.

In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Elena Kagan wrote Puerto Rico is not a sovereign state.

“Because the ultimate source of Puerto Rico’s prosecutorial power is the Federal Government—because when we trace that authority all the way back, we arrive at the doorstep of the U.S. Capitol — the Commonwealth and the United States are not separate sovereigns,” she said. “That means the two governments cannot 'twice put' respondents Sánchez Valle and Gómez Vázquez 'in jeopardy' for the 'same offence.' ”