July 14, 2017
On November 29, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Bravo-Fernandez v. United States. A jury convicted petitioners Juan Bravo-Fernandez and Hector Martínez-Maldonado of bribery in violation of 18 U. S. C. §666 but acquitted them of conspiring to violate §666 and traveling in interstate commerce to violate §666. The jury’s verdicts were therefore irreconcilably inconsistent, and the petitioners’ convictions were later vacated on appeal because of error in the judge’s instructions unrelated to this inconsistency. On remand, Bravo and Martínez moved for judgments of acquittal on the standalone §666 charges, arguing that the issue-preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy Clause barred the Government from retrying them on those charges. The District Court denied the motions, and the First Circuit affirmed.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether the eventual invalidation of petitioners’ §666 convictions undermined the United States v. Powell instruction that issue preclusion does not apply when the same jury returns logically inconsistent verdicts.
By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the First Circuit. In an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the Court held that the issue-preclusion component of the double jeopardy clause, which bars a second contest of an issue of fact or law raised and necessarily resolved by a prior judgment, does not bar the government from retrying defendants after a jury has returned irreconcilably inconsistent verdicts of conviction and acquittal and the convictions are later vacated for legal error unrelated to the inconsistency. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion.
And now, to discuss the case, we have Paul Crane, who is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Richmond School of Law.