450 U.S. 333 (1981), 79-1709, Albernaz v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 79-1709
Citation:450 U.S. 333, 101 S.Ct. 1137, 67 L.Ed.2d 275
Party Name:Albernaz v. United States
Case Date:March 09, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 333

450 U.S. 333 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1137, 67 L.Ed.2d 275

Albernaz

v.

United States

No. 79-1709

United States Supreme Court

March 9, 1981

Argued January 19, 1981

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners, who were involved in an agreement to import marihuana and then to distribute it domestically, were convicted on separate counts of conspiracy to import marihuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 963, and conspiracy to distribute marihuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. These statutes are parts of different subchapters of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Petitioners received consecutive sentences on each count, the length of each of their combined sentences exceeding the maximum which could have been imposed either for a conviction of conspiracy to import or for a conviction of conspiracy to distribute. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences.

Held:

1. Congress intended to permit the imposition of consecutive sentences for violations of §§ 846 and 963 even though such violations arose from a single agreement or conspiracy having dual objectives. Pp. 336-343.

(a) In determining whether Congress intended to authorize cumulative punishments, the applicable rule, announced in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304, is that

where the same act or transaction constitutes a violation of two distinct statutory provisions, the test to be applied to determine whether there are two offenses or only one is whether each provision requires proof of a fact which the other does not.

The statutory provisions involved here specify different ends as the proscribed object of the conspiracy -- "distribution" and "importation" -- and clearly satisfy the Blockburger test. Each provision requires proof of a fact that the other does not, and thus §§ 846 and 963 proscribe separate statutory offenses the violations of which can result in the imposition of consecutive sentences. Braverman v. United States, 317 U.S. 49 distinguished. Pp. 337-340.

(b) While the Blockburger test is not controlling where there is a clear indication [101 S.Ct. 1140] of contrary legislative intent, if anything is to be assumed from the legislative history's silence on the question whether consecutive sentences can be imposed for a conspiracy to import and distribute drugs, it is that Congress was aware of the Blockburger rule,

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and legislated with it in mind. And the rule of lenity has no application in this case, since there is no statutory ambiguity. Pp. 340-343.

2. The imposition of consecutive sentences for petitioners' violations of §§ 846 and 963 does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. In determining whether punishments imposed after a conviction are unconstitutionally multiple, the dispositive question is whether Congress intended to authorize separate punishments for the crimes. Where Congress intended, as it did here, to impose multiple punishments, imposition of such sentences does not violate the Constitution. Pp. 343-344.

612 F.2d 906, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, ad POWELL, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 344.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners were convicted of conspiracy to import marihuana (Count I), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 963, and conspiracy to distribute marihuana (Count II), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Petitioners received consecutive sentences on each count. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, sitting en banc, affirmed petitioners' convictions and sentences. United States v. Rodriguez, 612 F.2d 906 (1980). We granted certiorari to consider whether Congress intended consecutive sentences to be imposed for the violation of these two conspiracy statutes, and, if so, whether such cumulative punishment violates the Double Jeopardy

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Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. 449 U.S. 818 (1980).

The facts forming the basis of petitioners' convictions are set forth in the panel opinion of the Court of Appeals, United States v. Rodriguez, 585 F.2d 1234 (1978), and need not be repeated in detail here. For our purposes, we need only relate that the petitioners were involved in an agreement, the objectives of which were to import marihuana and then to distribute it domestically. Petitioners were charged and convicted under two separate statutory provisions, and received consecutive sentences. The length of each of their combined sentences exceeded the maximum 5-year sentence which could have been imposed either for a conviction of conspiracy to import or for a conviction of conspiracy to distribute.

The statutes involved in this case are part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, 84 Stat. 1236, 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. Section 846 is in Subchapter I of the Act, and provides:

Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this subchapter is punishable by imprisonment or fine or both which may not exceed the maximum punishment prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.

This provision proscribes conspiracy to commit any offense defined in Subchapter I, including conspiracy to distribute marihuana, which is specifically prohibited in 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Section 846 authorizes imposition of a sentence of imprisonment or a fine that does not exceed the penalty specified for the object offense.

Section 963, which is part of Subchapter II of the Act, contains a provision identical to § 846 and proscribes conspiracy to commit any offense defined in Subchapter II, including conspiracy to import marihuana, which is specifically prohibited by 21 U.S.C. § 960(a)(1). As in § 846, § 963

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authorizes a sentence of imprisonment or a fine that does not exceed the penalties specified for the object offense. Thus, a conspiratorial agreement which envisages both the importation and distribution of marihuana violates [101 S.Ct. 1141] both statutory provisions, each of which authorizes a separate punishment.

Petitioners do not dispute that their conspiracy to import and distribute marihuana violated both § 846 and § 963. Rather, petitioners contend it is not clear whether Congress intended to authorize multiple punishment for violation of these two statutes in a case involving only a single agreement or conspiracy, even though that isolated agreement had dual objectives. Petitioners argue that, because Congress has not spoken with the clarity required for this Court to find an "unambiguous intent to impose multiple punishment," we should invoke the rule of lenity and hold that the statutory ambiguity on this issue prevents the imposition of multiple punishment. Petitioners further contend that, even if cumulative punishment was authorized by Congress, such punishment is barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

In resolving petitioners' initial contention that Congress did not intend to authorize multiple punishment for violations of §§ 846 and 963, our starting point must be the language of the statutes. Absent a "clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive." Consumers Product Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania Inc., 447 U.S. 102, 108 (1980). Here, we confront separate offenses with separate penalty provisions that are contained in distinct Subchapters of the Act. The provisions are unambiguous on their face, and each authorizes punishment for a violation of its terms. Petitioners contend, however, that the question presented is not whether the statutes are facially ambiguous, but whether consecutive sentences may be imposed when convictions under those statutes arise from participation in a single conspiracy

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with multiple objectives -- a question raised, rather than resolved, by the existence of both provisions.

The answer to petitioners' contention is found, we believe, in application of the rule announced by this Court in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), and most recently applied last Term in Whalen v. United States, 445 U.S. 684 (1980). In Whalen, the Court explained that the "rule of statutory construction" stated in Blockburger is to be used "to determine whether Congress has, in a given situation, provided that two statutory offenses may be punished cumulatively." 445 U.S. at 691. The Court then referenced the following test set forth in Blockburger:

The applicable rule is that, where the same act or transaction constitutes a violation of two distinct statutory provisions, the test to be applied to determine whether there are two offenses or only one is whether each provision requires proof of a fact which the other does not.

Blockburger v. United States, supra at 304. Our decision in Whalen was not the first time this Court has looked to the Blockburger rule to determine whether Congress intended that two statutory offenses be punished cumulatively. We previously stated in Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161, 166 (1977), although our analysis there was, of necessity, based on a claim of double jeopardy, since the case came to us from a state court, that

[t]he established test for determining whether two offenses are sufficiently distinguishable to permit the imposition of cumulative punishment was stated in Blockburger v. United States. . . .

Similarly, in Iannelli v. United States, 420 U.S. 770, 785, n. 17 (1975), we explained:

The test articulated in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), serves a generally similar function of identifying congressional intent to impose separate sanctions for multiple offenses...

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