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United States v. Dixon

United States Supreme Court
509 U.S. 688, 113 S.Ct. 2849, 125 L.Ed.2d 556 (1993)


[Editor's Note: In this opinion, the Supreme Court addressed two separate underlying cases involving two separate defendants, Alvin Dixon and Michael Foster.]

Alvin Dixon (defendant) was arrested for second-degree murder and released on bond. The release specified that Dixon could not commit “any criminal offense,” and if he did, he could be prosecuted for contempt of court. Before his murder trial, Dixon was arrested and charged for possessing cocaine with intent to distribute. The court ordered Dixon to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court. Because Dixon could not do this, the court found him guilty of criminal contempt under a Washington, D.C. statute. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail. Dixon moved to dismiss the cocaine indictment on double-jeopardy grounds, and the trial court granted his motion.

The wife of Michael Foster (defendant) obtained a Civil Protection Order (CPO) against Foster that prevented him from physically abusing her in any way. Over the course of eight months, Foster's wife filed three motions to have her husband held in contempt for violating the order. Three serious threats and two separate incidents of abuse were brought to the court’s attention. After the court issued a notice of hearing and ordered Foster to attend, Foster's wife was told that she would have to prove “as an element, first that there was a Civil Protection Order, and then [that] . . . the assault as defined by the criminal code, in fact occurred.” The court found Foster guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for the two assaults but acquitted him of the other charges. Foster was sentenced to 600 days in prison. The U.S. Attorney’s Office later obtained an indictment against Foster charging him with five counts including simple assault, threatening to injure another, and assault with intent to kill. Like Dixon, Foster claimed a double-jeopardy violation with respect to the all the charges and also claimed that collateral estoppel precluded the indictment for the threats to injure. The trial court denied the double-jeopardy argument but did not rule on the collateral-estoppel claim. The government appealed the double-jeopardy ruling in favor of Dixon, and Foster appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion. The appellate court consolidated the cases and ultimately held, based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Grady v. Corbin, 495 U.S. 508 (1990), that double jeopardy barred both prosecutions. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Scalia, J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (Blackmun, J. )

Concurrence/Dissent (Souter, J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (Rehnquist, C.J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (White, J.)

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Questions & Answers

Why do you perceive this case as making a bright line rule? (see below for context, please)

My impression is the Rule of Law is slightly misrepresentative of the actual holding. SCOTUS held, "Because Dixon's drug offense did not include any element not contained in his previous contempt offense, his subsequent prosecution violates the DJC." In the alternative, the DJC did *not* prohibit the subsequent prosecution of Foster because there were novel elements in both the contempt and state law criminal proceedings. The Court did not make a bright line rule but ran both fact-patterns through the Blockburger test. Thus, I believe a more accurate RoL would be: "The Double Jeopardy Clause does not necessarily prevent the prosecution of a defendant on substantive criminal charges based on the same conduct for which he previously has been held in criminal contempt of court if it passes the Blockburger test.

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