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United States v. Dixon

    Brief Fact Summary. This case arises from the consolidation of two cases which both deal with the Double Jeopardy clause.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Double Jeopardy arises when a defendant is prosecuted twice on the same offense, or is subsequently prosecuted for a lesser-included offense which could have been prosecuted the first time.

    Facts. There are two distinguishable fact situations which the Court is dealing with:
    In Dixon, defendant was arrested for murder in D.C. and released on bail, on the condition that he not commit any criminal offense, or he would be held in contempt of court. While awaiting trial, Dixon was later arrested and indicted for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and was found guilty of contempt and sentenced to 180 days in jail. Dixon moved to dismiss this indictment on double jeopardy grounds because that was prosecution was secondary to his first offense.

    In Foster, the defendant’s wife obtained a CPO (civil protection order) against him due to domestic attacks. The Order required that he not molest, assault, or in any manner threaten or physically abuse her. Later his wife sought to have him held in contempt for violation of the Order. Foster also filed a Motion to Dismissed, grounded in double jeopardy, because his contempt charges arose out of the original prosecution.

    Issue. This case questions whether a criminal can be later charged in contempt for committing the same crime of which he is already being prosecuted.

    Held. Dixon’s secondary indictment was dismissed because it was found that it was double jeopardy; however, Foster was still indicted on three of four counts because double jeopardy did not apply to subsequent greater offenses.

    Dissent. According to Justice Rehnquist, double jeopardy should not apply to contempt charges because it is a separate and distinguishable offense, and the elements of contempt are entirely different from the elements of the substantive crimes from which the contempt charges arose.
    Justice Blackmun also dissents, noting that Contempt is one of few mechanisms available to a trial court in order to enforce its orders and it should be considered as separate and distinct because it is serving the court’s interest as opposed to that of the government.
    Concurrence. Justice White concurs, noting that the Double Jeopardy Clause bars prosecution for an offense if the defendant already has been held in contempt for its commission. Justice White goes on to note; however, that all of Foster’s counts on indictment should have also been dismissed. Justices Stevens and Souter agree with this result.

    Discussion. While, at first, Double Jeopardy may seem confusing, it is simply the rule that a defendant cannot be prosecuted more than once for the same crime or for a crime arising out of the same course of action.


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