Albernaz v. United States

Citation: 450 U.S. 333 (1981).

Summary: Defendants were convicted of conspiracy to import marijuana and conspiracy to distribute marijuana.  The foregoing convictions were pursuant to statutes that were parts of different sub-chapters of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 — namely 21 U.S.C. § 963 (conspiracy to import) and 21 U.S.C. § 846 (conspiracy to distribute).

Defendants received consecutive sentences on each count, and the combined length of the consecutive sentences exceeded the maximum sentence provided for under each statute.

The issues facing the U.S. Supreme Court were twofold:

  1. Whether Congress intended to authorize multiple punishments for violation of the two statutes in a case involving only a single agreement or conspiracy.
  2. Whether imposition of consecutive sentences violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

On Issue No. 1, the Court held that Congress did indeed intend to permit imposition of consecutive sentences under §§ 846 and 963 even if the violations arose from a single agreement or conspiracy having dual objectives (i.e., conspiracy to import and distribute).  The Court stated that, in determining whether Congress intended to authorize cumulative punishments, a court must apply the following test: “where the same act or transaction constitutes a violation of two district 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.”  Here, the two statutes specified different ends as the proscribed object of the conspiracy — “distribution” and “important” — and satisfy the foregoing test.  Also, the Court considered the fact that there was no clear indication of a contrary legislative intent against cumulative punishment under the two statutes.

As to Issue No. 2, the Court held that there was no violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause which, the Court reasoned, “simply states that no person shall ‘be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb’ . . . and protects against a second prosecution for the offence after conviction . . . [a]nd it protects against multiple punishments for the same offense.”  The Court noted that, “a single transaction can give rise to distinct offenses under separate statutes without violating the Double Jeopardy Clause.”  That was the case here and, therefore, Defendants’ Fifth Amendment rights against Double Jeopardy were not violated.

Related entries