We previously discussed the terrible case of Sureshbhai Patel who was seriously injured after former Madison (Alabama) police officer Eric Sloan Parker slammed him face first into the ground during a confrontation. Parker is now charged on the state level and facing a civil lawsuit. Now he has been charged with violating Patel’s civil rights. As we have discussed before, the question is whether such federal charges are necessary or warranted. Obviously, while based on the same conduct as the state charges, the charges are different. On the state level, it is assault while on the federal level it is the denial of federal rights. The Supreme Court has rejected double jeopardy attacks on such back-to-back charges, but these cases still raise the same concerns of multiplication of charges.
Under the indictment, Parker’s actions deprived the victim of his right under the U.S. Constitution to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures, which includes the right to be free from unreasonable force by someone acting under color of law.
The concern is that, even if a defendant is acquitted of the state charges, he faces a trial on the same actions in federal court. This is not to reflect any sympathy for Parker in facing charges. However, this is a recurring concern among civil libertarians over the erosion of double jeopardy protections. There are obviously different charges raised in the prosecutions, but some civil libertarians have questioned the trend of overlapping jurisdictions. At one time, such cases were addressed as state crimes with rare subsequent federal prosecutions, particularly in cases of discrimination. It is now becoming more common – at least in notorious cases like this one with international implications.
Parker, 26, was previously fired so it is not clear if he can afford counsel in this three-front litigation.
The problem is how to distinguish between federal crimes that are sufficiently distinct not to constitute double jeopardy. The Court has adopted a highly permissive approach that has fueled the increased use of parallel federal prosecutions. The foundation for this rule was laid in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), where the Supreme Court held that “where the same act or transaction constitutes a violation of two distinct statutory provisions, the test to be applied to determine whether there are two offenses or only one, is whether each provision requires proof of an additional fact which the other does not.” The Supreme Court has also emphasized that as separate sovereign powers, the federal government retains the right prosecute for its own crimes. In United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875), stressed that:
“It is the natural consequence of a citizenship which owes allegiance to two sovereignties, and claims protection from both. The citizen cannot complain, because he has voluntarily submitted himself to such a form of government. He owes allegiance to the two departments, so to speak, and within their respective spheres must pay the penalties which each exacts for disobedience to its laws.”
What do you think of these dual state-federal prosecutions?
Source: ABC News