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HEATH V. ALABAMA, 474 U. S. 82 (1985)

U.S. Supreme Court

Heath v. Alabama, 474 U.S. 82 (1985)

Heath v. Alabama

No. 84-5555

Argued October 9, 1985

Decided December 3, 1985

474 U.S. 82


Petitioner hired two men to kill his wife. In accordance with petitioner's plan, the men kidnaped petitioner's wife from her home in Alabama. Her body was later found on the side of a road in Georgia. Petitioner pleaded guilty to "malice" murder in a Georgia trial court in exchange for a sentence of life imprisonment. Subsequently, he was tried and convicted of murder during a kidnaping, and was sentenced to death in an Alabama trial court, which rejected his claim of double jeopardy. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.


1. This Court will not decide whether the Alabama trial court had jurisdiction, where petitioner did not claim lack of jurisdiction in his petition to the Alabama Supreme Court, but raised the claim for the first time in his petition to this Court. P. 474 U. S. 87.

2. Under the dual sovereignty doctrine, successive prosecutions by two States for the same conduct are not barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and, hence, Alabama was not barred from trying petitioner. Pp. 474 U. S. 87-93.

(a) The dual sovereignty doctrine provides that, when a defendant in a single act violates the "peace and dignity" of two sovereigns by breaking the laws of each, he has committed two distinct "offences" for double jeopardy purposes. In applying the doctrine, the crucial determination is whether the two entities that seek successively to prosecute a defendant for the same course of conduct can be termed separate sovereigns. This determination turns on whether the prosecuting entities' powers to undertake criminal prosecutions derive from separate and independent sources. It has been uniformly held that the States are separate sovereigns with respect to the Federal Government because each State's power to prosecute derives from its inherent sovereignty, preserved to it by the Tenth Amendment, and not from the Federal Government. Given the distinct sources of their powers to try a defendant, the States are no less sovereign with respect to each other than they are with respect to the Federal Government. Pp. 474 U. S. 87-91.

(b) The application of the dual sovereignty principle cannot be restricted to cases in which two prosecuting sovereigns can demonstrate that allowing only one sovereign to exercise jurisdiction over the defendant

Page 474 U. S. 83

will interfere with the second sovereign's unvindicated "interests." If the prosecuting entities are separate sovereigns, the circumstances of the case and the specific "interests" of each are irrelevant. Pp. 474 U. S. 91-92.

(c) The suggestion that the dual sovereignty doctrine be overruled and replaced with a balancing of interests approach is rejected. The Court's rationale for the doctrine is not a fiction that can be disregarded in difficult cases; it finds weighty support in the historical understanding and political realities of the States' role in the federal system and in the Double Jeopardy Clause itself. Pp. 474 U. S. 92-93.

455 So.2d 905, affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 94. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 95.

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