Criminal Law

Walker v. Texas

In Walker v. Texas, the Supreme Court was asked to consider whether the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits any person from being prosecuted for the same offense more than once, bars a state prosecution for a criminal offense when the defendant has already been prosecuted for the same offense in federal court.

Case Summary

In 2008, electrician Gary Calvin Walker became the subject of a federal investigation regarding possible corruption in his work at the Beaumont Independent School District in Texas. The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Texas brought a thirty-seven count indictment against Walker, accusing him of using his electrical contracting business to defraud the school district. The case went to trial in federal court, resulting in a deadlocked jury that prompted the judge to declare a mistrial. Soon after the trial ended, the state District Attorney’s Office charged Walker with six counts of fraud and money laundering, charges that overlapped with the original federal charges and that carried a potential sentence of life imprisonment. Walker filed six pretrial applications for writs of habeas corpus, claiming that the new charges violated his right under the Double Jeopardy Clause to not be tried twice for the same offense. Texas invoked the dual-sovereignty exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause, which permits a second prosecution for the same offense by a different “sovereign,” and the writs were denied. On appeal, the Texas Court of Appeals ruled for the State, and Walker filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, asking the Court to review his case.

On December 12, 2016, CAC, along with the Cato Institute, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Walker, urging the Court to grant review and hold that the dual-sovereignty exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause is inconsistent with the text, structure, and history of the Constitution. We argued that both the Double Jeopardy Clause and our federalist structure of government were adopted to protect individual liberty, and the dual sovereignty exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause undermines that protection. As we explained, concerns about government overreach and harassment that the Double Jeopardy Clause was adopted to prevent are particularly important today, given the expansive scope of federal criminal law and the significant federal-state cooperation in criminal law enforcement.

Finally, our brief explained why changes in constitutional law that have occurred since the Court’s last review of the dual-sovereignty exception made review now particularly important. The dual-sovereignty exception was first adopted against the backdrop of a legal regime in which the Double Jeopardy Clause did not apply to the States. Whatever validity the doctrine may have had then, it has been completely undermined by subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court that recognize that the Fourteenth Amendment protects against state infringement of the personal rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, including the Double Jeopardy Clause.

The Court denied Walker’s petition for certiorari on April 24, 2017.

Case Timeline