The Des Moines Register
Tuesday, December 11, 1997, Page 9A
Court 'double jeopardy' ruling: Jail, civil penalties for same conduct permissible
By AARON EPSTEIN
Washington, D.C. - The Supreme Court
has made it easier for governments to punish someone with both jail and civil penalties
for the same misconduct.
The decision made public Wednesday, is important because it applies to a vast array of behavior - from drunk driving to drug offenses to bank and contracting fraud - subject to criminal prosecution and non-criminal penalties.
Revising a unanimous ruling it issued only eight years ago, the high court narrowed its interpretation of the Constitution's command that no one be punished twice for the same acts.
But to prove double jeopardy, the court required the "clearest proof" a civil penalty is actually a disguised criminal punishment.
John Paul Stevens, the only justice who wanted to preserve the 1989 ruling, said the court's "new attitude" could "unduly restrict the protections of the Double Jeopardy Clause."
But what clearly worried the majority of the justices was that the 1989 court ruling in a case called U.S. vs. Halper had spawned a "wide variety of novel double jeopardy claims," as Chief Justice William Rehnquist put it in a majority opinion.
"Before Halper," said Ohio State Soliciter Jeffrey Sutton, who filed a brief for 48 states and territories, "it was well understood law enforcement could arrest people for DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol), take their driver's license and fine them administratively, and then convict them criminally."
Afterwards, he said, "Virtually every state was challenged by claims the administrative actions amounted to criminal punishment. Halper really frustrated legitimate law enforcement. Many prosecutions never occurred."
Among the double jeopardy claims filed, Rehnquist said, were ones from people who were discharged from the military for drug violations and then prosecuted for the same offenses; barred from government contracting for fraud and then accused of criminal fraud; and convicted of a crime and evicted from public housing for the same drug offense.
Rehnquist said the Halper ruling, written by retired Justice Harry Blackmun, was "ill-considered" because it classified disproportionately severe civil penalties as "punishment" - and, consequently, potential double jeopardy violations.
The Des Moines Register
Thursday, December 11, 1997, Page 9A