The Supreme Court has agreed to examine a case that may have some serious implications for the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. The Supreme Court’s blog describes it like this:

Issue: Whether the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the federal government are separate sovereigns for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution.

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution holds that a person may be put on trial only once before a federal court for a single offense.  If someone is tried and acquitted (or convicted) of a crime in a federal court, there can be no further trials in the federal judicial system.

A state, however, may conduct a separate trial involving the defendant.   This is because the Double Jeopardy Clause protects against successive prosecutions only by the same sovereign, and states are treated as separate sovereigns under the U.S. Constitution.  Territories are not.

Luis Sanchez del Valle was charged in Puerto Rico with crimes related to firearms. He was also tried and convicted by a U.S. Federal court for similar crimes. After his federal case concluded, his attorneys moved to dismiss the charges in the Puerto Rican court, arguing that being tried in Puerto Rico for the same crimes would amount to Double Jeopardy.

The prosecution said that the U.S. has authority to try Mr. Sanchez del Valle for crimes, but that Puerto Rico is separate from the United States and also has its own power to try Mr. Sanchez del Valle as well.  In essence, they argued that Puerto Rico has the sovereign power of a state for purposes of Double Jeopardy.

Ultimately, the case reached the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, which sided with Mr. Sanchez del Valle. Puerto Rico belongs to the United States, they said, so Puerto Rico and the U.S. do not have separate authority to try someone for the same crime.

Authority for this position can be found under the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2), which states:  “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”

The Puerto Rican government appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case during the coming term.

Congress has said many times that Puerto Rico is a territory and is under the power of the Congress. Will the Supreme Court agree? This question is expected to be answered at the end of the 2015-2016 Supreme Court term, and the results will be interesting.



10 Responses

  1. In 1952 PR was betrayed by Munoz Marin by making Puerto Ricans believe that PR was a Commonwealth Free State. It is also known that PR is not a Commonwealth, is not free and is not a state. It must be defined by the Supreme Court right now, or else we will continue to be treated as second class citizens.

    • Grow up. Puerto Ricans love to whine about everything without reason. You are given everything and all you do is complain. I wish to God you would be given independence already so we can watch the island become a third world country and you would finally appreciate “what you had”. We are sick of hearing you whine.

  2. I am a Ame??Rican who loves America, my family has served this country, we are USA citizens of Arawak Taino tribes, Spaniard invasion slavery who fought for AMERICA in the victory against the Spanish war. Our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters are a genetic combination of Arawak Taino, Spaniard($) by we speak Spanish) African and white American (European) descent. We support our DNA, are proud to serve our country, love the American people, and are against the racial wars that are destroying our genetic brothers and sisters. EQUALITY for all, hate destroys, love rebuilds..humanity healing humanity, because we ALL matter. As a Puerto Rican, I can proclaim we have been subject to much discrimination without equal representation for our people, immigrated citizens of other Arawak tribes because we are natural born citizens who fought to support America through the Spanish war. We want to contribute support America, and positively impact #teamwork anti hate discrimination. As MLK taught us, injustice any where, is injustice everywhere. UNIFY unity.

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