Civil and Human Rights

Will Supreme Court hear Calvin Walker’s case?

By Liz Teitz

The U.S. Supreme Court, which has received a petition from former BISD contract electrician Calvin Walker and a response from the Texas Attorney General and the Jefferson County District Attorney, now will decide whether to hear oral arguments in connection with Walker’s state criminal case.

A brief filed last week by the Texas Attorney General’s Office and Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office argued that the court should not consider Walker’s claim that he should not be tried by the state for offenses he was previously tried for in federal court, calling the court “an improper vehicle” to hear Walker’s questions.

Walker was accused of fraud and money-laundering in federal indictments in 2011, but after a mistrial, he pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of failure to pay taxes in a timely manner.

His U.S. Supreme Court case challenges the right of the state to prosecute him on similar charges of money laundering and “securing execution of a document by deception,” claiming that he is protected by the Constitution’s double-jeopardy clause that prevents people from being tried twice for the same offense.

He asks the court to reconsider the exception of “dual-sovereignty doctrine,” which claims that acts considered crimes by both state and federal government are offenses against both and can be punished by both. In their response, the state argues that the principle is fundamental to the U.S. system of government.

In the opposition brief, the state argues that the 2011 dismissal of Walker’s federal charges was “not turning on factual guilt or innocence,” so he can be tried for similar charges by the state court.

The tax offense he pleaded guilty to is “a separate offense from the state fraud and money-laundering offenses alleged here,” the brief says.

The state also argues that because Walker’s appeal addressed only that he was not given a proper hearing before the trial court ruled against his double-jeopardy claim, he is challenging a “procedural issue” rather than the dual-sovereignty doctrine.

The opposition brief disputes Walker’s claims that the state and federal prosecutors should not be considered “separate sovereigns” because they cooperated in the prosecutions, and says that in the past 60 years, no appeals court has found the kind of “sham prosecution” Walker alleges, which justifies considering the governments actions together.

Beaumont’s Ninth Court of Appeals ruled against the double-jeopardy claims in March, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to review the case in June.

The U.S. Supreme Court requested a response from the state in December after they waived their right to respond in November.

Briefs supporting Walker were filed in December by the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, the Constitutional Accountability Center and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, as well as by Stuart Banner, a legal historian at UCLA’s Supreme Court Clinic, all arguing that the court should hear Walker’s argument.

Four of the eight Supreme Court justices must vote to grant Walker’s petition and hear oral arguments in the case. According to the U.S. Courts website, “the Court accepts 100-150 of the more than 7,000 cases that it is asked to review each year.”

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