Whalen v. United States
Annotate this Case
445 U.S. 684 (1980)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Whalen v. United States, 445 U.S. 684 (1980)
Whalen v. United States
Argued November 27, 28, 1979
Decided April 16, 1980
445 U.S. 684
Petitioner was convicted under the District of Columbia Code of the separate statutory offenses of rape and of killing the same victim in the perpetration of the rape. Under the Code, the latter offense is a species of first-degree murder, but the statute, although requiring proof of a killing and of the commission or attempted commission of rape, does not require proof of an intent to kill. Petitioner was sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment of 20 years to life for first-degree murder, and of 15 years to life for rape. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences, rejecting petitioner's contention that his sentence for rape was improper because that offense merged for purposes of punishment with the felony murder offense, and thus that the imposition of cumulative punishments for the two offenses was contrary to the federal statutes and to the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Held: The Court of Appeals was mistaken in believing that Congress authorized consecutive sentences in the circumstances of this case, and that error denied petitioner his right to be deprived of liberty as punishment for criminal conduct only to the extent authorized by Congress. Pp. 445 U. S. 686-695.
(a) The customary deference ordinarily afforded by this Court to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' construction of local federal legislation is inappropriate with respect to the statutes involved in this case, because petitioner's claim under the Double Jeopardy Clause, which protects against multiple punishments for the same offense, cannot be separated entirely from a resolution of the question of statutory construction. If a federal court exceeds its own authority by imposing multiple punishments not authorized by Congress, it violates not only the specific guarantee against double jeopardy, but also the constitutional principle of separation of powers in a manner that trenches particularly harshly on individual liberty. Pp. 445 U. S. 688-690.
(b) Neither of the provisions of the District of Columbia Code specifying the separate offenses involved here indicates whether Congress authorized consecutive sentences where both statutes have been offended in a single criminal episode. However, another Code section, when construed in light of its history and its evident purpose, indicates
that multiple punishments cannot be imposed for two offenses arising out of the same criminal transaction unless each offense "requires proof of a fact which the other does not." The statute embodies in this respect the rule of statutory construction stated in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U. S. 299, 284 U. S. 304, and, in this case, leads to the conclusion that Congress did not authorize consecutive sentences for rape and for a killing committed in the course of the rape, since it is plainly not the case that each provision "requires proof of a fact which the other does not." A conviction for killing in the course of a rape cannot be had without proving all the elements of the offense of rape. Pp. 690-695.
379 A.2d 1152, reversed and remanded.
STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post p. 445 U. S. 695. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 445 U. S. 696. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 445 U. S. 699.