January 13, 2016

Jenner & Block Partner Adam G. Unikowsky argued before the  US Supreme Court in a case that asks whether Puerto Rico is a distinct sovereign from the United States for the purposes of invoking the “dual sovereignty” exception to the double jeopardy clause. 

In Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, Mr. Unikowsky’s clients, Luis Sanchez Valle and Gomez Vazquez, pleaded guilty to federal charges of selling a firearm without a license.  The men moved to dismiss the charges that had been brought separately in Puerto Rico court.  The Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled that the commonwealth could not prosecute the men for the same offense because of the double jeopardy clause.  Puerto Rico appealed to the US Supreme Court.   Mr. Unikowsky argued that Puerto Rico remains a territory, not a distinct sovereign, and thus the ultimate source of power is Congress, which delegated the authority to enact the Puerto Rican Constitution.   

“There is a difference, a meaningful constitutional difference, between the delegation of power and the conferral of sovereignty,” Mr. Unikowsky argued.  “The former occurred in Puerto Rico, as it has occurred in other territories.  The latter can only apply to states within our union.” 

Several media outlets reported on the arguments, including Bloomberg BNA (subscription required), Courthouse News Service, Law360  and The National Law Journal(subscription required).