Blockburger v. United States


Court: United States Supreme Court

Facts: Blockburger was charged with the five counts of violating the Harrison Narcotic Act, and convicted under counts 2, 3, and 5. Specifically:
  • 2: Sold 10 grains of morphine hydrochloride not in or from the original stamped package
  • 3: Sold 8 more grains the next day, also not in the original stamped package
  • 5: Count (3) was not in pursuance of a written order of the purchaser
The court sentenced him to 5 years + $2K for each count, consecutively. The appeal asserts that 2 and 3 were really part of the same transaction, and that 3 and 5, being the upshot of a single act, should not be charged separately.

Posture: Charged under federal statute, convicted; Appealed (Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit), affirmed.

Issue: Whether or not it is appropriate to charge two offenses when the same act violates two statutary provisions.

Holding: Affirmed. There were multiple offenses committed.

Rule: In order to charge two offenses, each offense must have at least one element that the other does not. If this condition is fulfilled, double jeopardy is not violated, because the two charges are different.

Reasoning: Double jeopardy only protects against double prosecution for the same offense, not different offenses. If the penalty is too harsh, only Congress can grant relief: the clear meaning of the law is that different crimes can be prosecuted.

Dicta: Meddling in the prohibition of dri sales is beyond the authority of congress; the Narcotic Act is just aimed at enforcing the stamp tax. The punishment seems unreasonably severe, though.