Albernaz v. United States

The Facts

Defendants charged with and convicted of conspiracy to import marijuana.  They were also charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana.  Defendants received consecutive sentences on each count.  “The length of their combined sentences exceeded the maximum five-year sentence which could have been imposed either for a conviction of conspiracy to import or for a conviction of conspiracy to distribute.

Procedural History

At trial defendants argue “it is not clear whether Congress intended to authorize multiple punishment for violation of these two statutes in a case involving only a single agreement or conspiracy, even though that isolated agreement had dual objectives.”  They argue that there was singular intent, yet multiple punishments.


“Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this subchapter is punishable by imprisonment or fine or both which may not exceed the maximum punishment prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.”

Relevant test:  “…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 a fact which the other does not.”

The Issue

Whether “Congress intended consecutive sentences to be imposed for the violation of two conspiracy statutes and, if so, whether such cumulative punishment violates the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

The Holding/Reasoning

Yes.  In applying the relevant test, the court looks at the elements of the crime.  If each requires of a fact that the other does not, the test is satisfied and separate convictions can be sustained.  “The fact that an offender violates by a single transaction several regulatory controls devised by Congress as means for dealing with social evil as deleterious as it is difficult to combat does not make the several different regulatory controls single and identical.”  “Sections 846 and 963 specify different ends as the proscribed object of the conspiracy-distribution as opposed to important … and each provision requires proof of a fact that the other does not.”  The test normally should not be applied to a statute where clear legislative intent exists contradicting the application of the rule.  However, nothing about the statute demonstrates contradictory legislative intent.  Importation and distribution are distinct crimes, with distinct intents.  Both are separate crimes for a reason and therefore their conspiracy, for purposes of criminal prosecution, can be charged separately and doubly.

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