445 U.S. 684 (1980), 78-5471, Whalen v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 78-5471
Citation:445 U.S. 684, 100 S.Ct. 1432, 63 L.Ed.2d 715
Party Name:Whalen v. United States
Case Date:April 16, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 684

445 U.S. 684 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 1432, 63 L.Ed.2d 715

Whalen

v.

United States

No. 78-5471

United States Supreme Court

April 16, 1980

Argued November 27, 28, 1979

CERTIORARI TO THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS

Syllabus

Petitioner was convicted under the District of Columbia Code of the separate statutory offenses of rape and of killing the same victim in the perpetration of the rape. Under the Code, the latter offense is a species of first-degree murder, but the statute, although requiring proof of a killing and of the commission or attempted commission of rape, does not require proof of an intent to kill. Petitioner was sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment of 20 years to life for first-degree murder, and of 15 years to life for rape. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences, rejecting petitioner's contention that his sentence for rape was improper because that offense merged for purposes of punishment with the felony murder offense, and thus that the imposition of cumulative punishments for the two offenses [100 S.Ct. 1434] was contrary to the federal statutes and to the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Held: The Court of Appeals was mistaken in believing that Congress authorized consecutive sentences in the circumstances of this case, and that error denied petitioner his right to be deprived of liberty as punishment for criminal conduct only to the extent authorized by Congress. Pp. 686-695.

(a) The customary deference ordinarily afforded by this Court to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' construction of local federal legislation is inappropriate with respect to the statutes involved in this case, because petitioner's claim under the Double Jeopardy Clause, which protects against multiple punishments for the same offense, cannot be separated entirely from a resolution of the question of statutory construction. If a federal court exceeds its own authority by imposing multiple punishments not authorized by Congress, it violates not only the specific guarantee against double jeopardy, but also the constitutional principle of separation of powers in a manner that trenches particularly harshly on individual liberty. Pp. 688-690.

(b) Neither of the provisions of the District of Columbia Code specifying the separate offenses involved here indicates whether Congress authorized consecutive sentences where both statutes have been offended in a single criminal episode. However, another Code section, when construed in light of its history and its evident purpose, indicates

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that multiple punishments cannot be imposed for two offenses arising out of the same criminal transaction unless each offense "requires proof of a fact which the other does not." The statute embodies in this respect the rule of statutory construction stated in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304, and, in this case, leads to the conclusion that Congress did not authorize consecutive sentences for rape and for a killing committed in the course of the rape, since it is plainly not the case that each provision "requires proof of a fact which the other does not." A conviction for killing in the course of a rape cannot be had without proving all the elements of the offense of rape. Pp. 690-695.

379 A.2d 1152, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post p. 695. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 696. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 699.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

After a jury trial, the petitioner was convicted in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia of rape, and of killing the same victim in the perpetration of rape. He was sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment of 20 years to life for first-degree murder, and of 15 years to life for rape. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and the sentences. 379 A.2d 1152.1 We brought

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the case here to consider the contention that the imposition of cumulative punishments for the two offenses was contrary to federal statutory and constitutional law. 441 U.S. 904.

I

Under the laws enacted by Congress for the governance of the District of Columbia, rape and killing a human being in the course of any of six specified felonies, including rape, are separate statutory offenses. The latter is a species of first-degree murder, but, as is typical of such "felony murder" offenses, the statute does not require proof of an intent to kill. D.C.Code § 22-2401 (1973). It does require proof of a [100 S.Ct. 1435] killing and of the commission or attempted commission of rape or of one of five other specified felonies, in the course of which the killing occurred. Ibid. A conviction of first-degree murder is punishable in the District of Columbia by imprisonment for a term of 20 years to life. § 22-2404.2 Forcible rape of a female is punishable by imprisonment for any term of years or for life. § 22-2801.

It is the petitioner's position that his sentence for the offense of rape must be vacated because that offense merged for purposes of punishment with the felony murder offense, just as, for example, simple assault is ordinarily held to merge into the offense of assault with a dangerous weapon. See Waller v. United States, 389 A.2d 801, 808 (D.C.1978). The District of Columbia Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that "the societal interests which Congress sought to protect by enactment [of the two statutes] are separate and distinct,"

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and that "nothing in th[e] legislation . . . suggest[s] that Congress intended" the two offenses to merge. 379 A.2d at 1159. That construction of the legislation, the petitioner argues, is mistaken, and he further argues that, so construed, the pertinent statutes impose on him multiple punishments for the same offense in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Cf. North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711.

If this case had come here from a United States court of appeals, we would, as a matter of course, first decide the petitioner's statutory claim, and only if that claim were rejected would we reach the constitutional issue. See Simpson v. United States, 435 U.S. 6, 11-12. But this case comes from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and the statutes in controversy are Acts of Congress applicable only within the District of Columbia. In such cases, it has been the practice of the Court to defer to the decisions of the courts of the District of Columbia on matters of exclusively local concern. See Pernell v. Southall Realty, 416 U.S. 363, 366; see also Griffin v. United States, 336 U.S. 704, 717-718; Fisher v. United States, 328 U.S. 463, 476. This practice has stemmed from the fact that Congress, in creating the courts of the District of Columbia and prescribing their jurisdiction, "contemplate[d] that the decisions of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on matters of local law -- both common law and statutory law -- will be treated by this Court in a manner similar to the way in which we treat decisions of the highest court of a State on questions of state law." Pernell v. Southall Realty, 416 U.S. at 368 (footnote omitted).

But it is clear that the approach described in the Pernell opinion is a matter of judicial policy, not a matter of judicial power. Acts of Congress affecting only the District, like other federal laws, certainly come within this Court's Art. III jurisdiction, and thus we are not prevented from reviewing the decisions of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals interpreting those Acts in the same jurisdictional sense that we

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are barred from reviewing a state court's interpretation of a state statute. Ibid. Cf. Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 691; Scripto, Inc. v. Carson, 362 U.S. 207, 210; Murdock v. Memphis, 20 Wall. 590, 632-633.

In this case, we have concluded that the customary deference to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' construction of local federal legislation is inappropriate with respect to the statutes involved, for the reason that the petitioner's claim under the Double Jeopardy Clause cannot be separated entirely from a resolution of the question [100 S.Ct. 1436] of statutory construction. The Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy protects not only against a second trial for the same offense, but also "against multiple punishments for the same offense," North Carolina v. Pearce, supra at 717 (footnote omitted). But the question whether punishments imposed by a court after a defendant's conviction upon criminal charges are unconstitutionally multiple cannot be resolved without determining what punishments the Legislative Branch has authorized. See Gore v. United States, 357 U.S. 386, 390; id. at 394 (Warren, C.J., dissenting on statutory grounds); Bell v. United States, 349 U.S. 81, 82; Ex parte Lange, 18 Wall. 163, 176; see also Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161, 165; United States v. Universal C. I. T. Credit Corp., 344 U.S. 218; Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299; Ebeling v. Morgan, 237 U.S. 625.

It is not at all uncommon, for example, for Congress or a state legislature to provide that a single criminal offense may be punished both by a monetary fine and by a term of imprisonment. In that situation, it could not be seriously argued that the imposition of both a fine and a prison sentence in accordance with such a provision constituted an impermissible punishment. But if a penal statute instead provided for a fine or a term of imprisonment upon conviction, a court could not impose both punishments without running afoul of the double jeopardy guarantee of...

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