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ABNEY V. UNITED STATES, 431 U. S. 651 (1977)

U.S. Supreme Court

Abney v. United States, 431 U.S. 651 (1977)

Abney v. United States

No. 75-6521

Argued January 17, 1977

Decided June 9, 1977

431 U.S. 651


Petitioners and others were charged in a single-count indictment with conspiracy and an attempt to obstruct interstate commerce by means of extortion, in violation of the Hobbs Act. Petitioners challenged the indictment as duplicitous, contending that its single count improperly charged both a conspiracy and an attempt to violate the Hobbs Act. The District Court refused to dismiss the indictment but required the prosecution to prove all the elements of both offenses charged in the indictment, and instructed the jury to that effect. The jury returned a guilty verdict against each petitioner. The Court of Appeals reversed and ordered a new trial on certain evidentiary grounds, at the same time directing the Government to elect between the conspiracy and attempt charges on remand. After the Government elected to proceed on the conspiracy charge, petitioners moved to dismiss the indictment on grounds that the retrial would expose them to double jeopardy and that the indictment, as modified by the election, failed to charge an offense. The District Court denied the motion, and petitioners immediately appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but did not address the Government's argument that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal since the denial of petitioners' motion to dismiss the indictment was not a "final decision" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291, which grants courts of appeals jurisdiction to review "all final decisions" of the district courts, both civil and criminal.


1. The District Court's pretrial order denying petitioners' motion to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds was a "final decision" within the meaning of § 1291, and thus was immediately appealable. Pp. 431 U. S. 656-662.

(a) Although lacking the finality traditionally considered indispensable to appellate review, such an order falls within the "collateral order" exception to the final judgment rule announced in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U. S. 541, since it constitutes a complete, formal, and, in the trial court, final rejection of an accused's double jeopardy claim, the very nature of which is such that it is collateral to, and separable from, the principal issue of whether or not the accused is guilty of the offense charged. Pp. 431 U. S. 657-660.

Page 431 U. S. 652

(b) Moreover, the rights conferred on an accused by the Double Jeopardy Clause would be significantly undermined if appellate review of double jeopardy claims were postponed until after conviction and sentence, since that Clause not only protects an individual against being subjected to double punishments, but also is a guarantee against being twice put to trial for the same offense. Pp. 66662.

2. The Court of Appeals had no jurisdiction under § 1291 to pass on the merits of petitioners' challenge to the sufficiency of the indictment, since the District Court's rejection of such challenge does not come within the Cohen exception. That rejection is not "collateral" in any sense of that term, but rather goes to the very heart of the issues to be resolved at the upcoming trial. Moreover, the issue resolved adversely to petitioners is such that it may be reviewed effectively, and, if necessary, corrected if and when a final judgment results. Pp. 431 U. S. 662-663.

3. The Double Jeopardy Clause does not preclude petitioners' retrial on the conspiracy charge. It cannot be assumed that the jury disregarded the District Court's instructions at the initial trial that it could not return a guilty verdict unless the Government proved beyond a reasonable doubt all of the elements of both offenses charged in the indictment, and therefore it would appear that the jury did not acquit petitioners of the conspiracy charge, while convicting them on the attempt charge, as petitioners urge was a possibility in view of the general verdict. Pp. 431 U. S. 663-665.

530 F.2d 963, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., concurred in the judgment.

Page 431 U. S. 653

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