474 U.S. 82 (1985), 84-5555, Heath v. Alabama

Docket Nº:No. 84-5555
Citation:474 U.S. 82, 106 S.Ct. 433, 88 L.Ed.2d 387, 54 U.S.L.W. 4016
Party Name:Heath v. Alabama
Case Date:December 03, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court

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474 U.S. 82 (1985)

106 S.Ct. 433, 88 L.Ed.2d 387, 54 U.S.L.W. 4016




No. 84-5555

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 3, 1985

Argued October 9, 1985



Petitioner hired two men to kill his wife. In accordance with petitioner's plan, the men kidnaped petitioner's wife from [106 S.Ct. 434] 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. 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. 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. 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

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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. 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. 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. 94. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 95.

O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before the Court is whether the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment bars Alabama from trying petitioner for the capital offense of murder during a kidnaping after Georgia has convicted him of murder based on the same homicide. In particular, this case presents the issue of the applicability of the dual sovereignty doctrine to successive prosecutions by two States.


In August, 1981, petitioner, Larry Gene Heath, hired Charles Owens and Gregory Lumpkin to kill his wife, Rebecca Heath, who was then nine months pregnant, for a sum of $2,000. On the morning of August 31, 1981, petitioner left the Heath residence in Russell County, Alabama, to meet with Owens and Lumpkin in Georgia, just over the Alabama

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border from the Heath home. Petitioner led them back to the Heath residence, gave them the keys to the Heaths' car and house, and left the premises in his girlfriend's truck. Owens and Lumpkin then kidnaped Rebecca Heath from her home. The Heath car, with Rebecca Heath's body inside, was later found on the side of a road in Troup County, Georgia. The cause of death was a gunshot wound in the head. The estimated time of death and the distance from the Heath residence to the spot where Rebecca Heath's body was found are consistent with the theory that the murder took place in Georgia, and respondent does not contend otherwise.

Georgia and Alabama authorities pursued dual investigations in which they cooperated to some extent. On September 4, 1981, petitioner was arrested by Georgia authorities. Petitioner waived his Miranda rights and gave a full confession admitting that he had arranged his wife's kidnaping and murder. In November, 1981, the grand jury of Troup County, Georgia, indicted petitioner for the offense of "malice" murder under Ga.Code Ann. § 16-5-1 (1984).1 Georgia then served petitioner with notice of its intention to seek the death penalty, citing as the aggravating circumstance the fact that the murder was "caused and directed" by petitioner. Record 742. See Ga.Code Ann. § 17-10-30(b)(6) (1982). On February 10, 1982, petitioner pleaded guilty to the Georgia murder charge in exchange for a sentence of life imprisonment, which he understood could involve his serving as few as seven years in prison. See Record 495.

On May 5, 1982, the grand jury of Russell County, Alabama, returned an indictment against petitioner for the capital

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offense of murder during a kidnaping.2 See Ala.Code § 13A-5-40(a)(1) (1982). Before trial on this indictment, petitioner entered pleas of autrefois convict and former jeopardy under the Alabama and United States Constitutions, arguing that his conviction and sentence in Georgia barred his prosecution in Alabama for the same conduct. Petitioner also entered a plea contesting the jurisdiction of the Alabama court on the ground that the crime had occurred in Georgia.

After a hearing, the trial court rejected petitioner's double jeopardy claims. It assumed, arguendo, that the two prosecutions could not have been brought in succession by one State, but held that double jeopardy did not bar successive prosecutions by two different States for the same act. See Record 776. The court postponed a ruling on petitioner's plea to jurisdiction until the close of the State's case in chief. See id. at 778.

At the close of the State's case, petitioner argued that Alabama did not have jurisdiction under state law, because there had been no evidence of kidnaping and all the [106 S.Ct. 436] evidence showed that Rebecca Heath was killed in Georgia. The State responded that a kidnaping had been proved, and that, under Ala.Code § 15-2-3 (1982), if a crime commences in Alabama it may be punished in Alabama regardless of where the crime is consummated. The court rejected both petitioner's jurisdictional plea and his renewed double jeopardy claims. See Record 590.

On January 12, 1983, the Alabama jury convicted petitioner of murder during a kidnaping in the first degree. After a sentencing hearing, the jury recommended the death

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penalty. Pursuant to Alabama law, a second sentencing hearing was held before the trial judge. The judge accepted the jury's recommendation, finding that the sole aggravating factor, that the capital offense was "committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of a kidnapping," outweighed the sole mitigating factor, that the

defendant was convicted of the murder of Rebecca Heath in the Superior Court of Troup County, Georgia, . . . and received a sentence of life imprisonment in that court.

Id. at 718-720. See Ala.Code §§ 13A-5-49(4), 13A-5-50 (1982).

On appeal, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rejected petitioner's pleas of autrefois convict and former jeopardy under the Alabama and United States Constitutions and affirmed his conviction. 456 So.2d 898 (1988). Petitioner then filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Alabama Supreme Court, stating the sole issue to be "whether or not the prosecution in the State of Alabama constituted double jeopardy in violation of the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution." App. 92. The court granted his petition, and unanimously affirmed his conviction. Ex parte Heath, 455 So.2d 905 (1984).

The Alabama Supreme Court noted that "[p]rosecutions under the laws of separate sovereigns do not improperly subject an accused twice to prosecutions for the same offense," citing this Court's cases applying the dual sovereignty doctrine. Id. at 906. The court acknowledged that this Court has not considered the applicability of the dual sovereignty doctrine to successive prosecutions by different States. It reasoned, however, that

[i]f, for double jeopardy purposes, Alabama is considered to be a sovereign entity vis-a-vis the federal government, then surely it is a sovereign entity vis-a-vis the State of Georgia.


Petitioner sought a writ of certiorari from this Court, raising double jeopardy claims and claims based on Alabama's exercise of jurisdiction. No due process objections were asserted. We granted certiorari limited to the question

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whether petitioner's Alabama conviction was barred by this Court's decision in Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161 (1977), and requested the parties to address the question of the applicability of the dual...

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