Bartkus v. Illinois, 359 U.S. 121 (1959)

2011-11-21 22:58:09

In this decision, the Supreme Court upheld a state conviction following federal acquittal for the same crime, ruling that the so-called ‘‘double jeopardy clause’’ of the Fifth Amendment, which bars multiple convictions for the same crime, did not apply to the states. Alfonse Bartkus was tried in federal court for robbing a federally insured bank and acquitted, but he was later convicted in Illinois state court for the same crime and sentenced to life in prison. The defendant challenged his conviction on the grounds that the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process guarantees disallowed multiple trials for the same crime. The Court declared that the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause did not apply any of the first eight amendments to the states, and thus the ban against multiple prosecutions—the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment—did not apply to state courts. The Court relied on historical and federalist arguments that states were intended to remain separate from the federal government, beginning with their own constitutions, and their legal systems should be independent as well. Applying this ‘‘dual sovereignty’’ doctrine meant that the same crime could nevertheless be considered a separate offense in federal and state systems. The Court also relied on prior case law, in the Supreme Court and the states, upholding successive federal and state prosecutions, and invoked policy arguments that banning dual state and federal prosecutions would hinder states’ ability to protect themselves against crime. The strong dissent in this case argued that double prosecutions are contrary to the historical and moral precedents of civilized society.


References and Further Reading

  • Dawson, Michael A., Note: Popular Sovereignty, Double Jeopardy, and the Dual Sovereignty Doctrine, Yale Law Journal 102 (1992): 46:281–303
  • Lopez, Dax Eric, Note: Not Twice for the Same: How the Dual Sovereignty Doctrine Is Used to Circumvent Non Bis In Idem, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 33 (2000): 1263–303
  • ‘‘Selective Preemption: A Preferential Solution to the Bartkus–Abbate Rule in Successive Federal–State Prosecutions.’’ The Notre Dame Lawyer 57 (1981): 340–63

See also Double Jeopardy (V): Early History, Background, Framing; Double Jeopardy: Modern History; Due Process; Due Process of Law (V and XIV); Fourteenth Amendment; Substantive Due Process