Preclusive Effect of Vacated Conviction
Bravo-Fernandez v. United States15-537
In Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436 (1970), this Court held that the collateral estoppel aspect of the Double Jeopardy Clause bars a prosecution that depends on a fact necessarily decided in the defendant’s favor by an earlier acquittal. Here, a jury acquitted petitioners of conspiring and traveling to violate 18 U.S.C. § 666, but convicted petitioners of violating § 666. The convictions were vacated on appeal because they rested on incorrect jury instructions, and it is undisputed that the acquittals depended on the jury’s finding that petitioners did not violate § 666. The government nonetheless sought to retry petitioners on the § 666 charges.
Widening an acknowledged split, the First Circuit held that the acquittals have no preclusive effect under Ashe because they were inconsistent with the vacated, unlawful convictions. The First Circuit distinguished Yeager v. United States, 557 U.S. 110 (2009), which held that an acquittal retains its preclusive effect even when it is inconsistent with a hung count, on the theory that juries “speak” through vacated convictions, but not through hung counts. The questions presented are:
1. Whether, under Ashe and Yeager, a vacated, unconstitutional conviction can cancel out the preclusive effect of an acquittal under the collateral estoppel prong of the Double Jeopardy Clause.
2. Whether, under Evans v. Michigan, 133 S. Ct. 1069 (2013), the Double Jeopardy Clause permits a district court to retract its “judgment of acquittal” entered on remand as an interpretation of the Court of Appeals mandate.
DECISIONDecided November 29, 2016 HOLDING
The issue-preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar the Government from retrying defendants, like petitioners, 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.
GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion.
ORAL ARGUMENTArgued October 4, 2016
CERTIORARI STAGEGranted March 28, 2016
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Decided June 15, 2015