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Bartkus v. Illinois


The majority declared that the Fourteenth Amendment did not impose upon the states the Fifth Amendment's protection against double jeopardy. However, the Court overruled the Bartkus decision only ten years later in Benton v. Maryland (1969). In the latter case, the Court held that the double jeopardy prohibition did apply to the states.

Bartkus was arrested under a federal law making it a crime to rob a federally insured savings and loan association. He was tried in a federal court and acquitted on 28 December 1953. On 8 January 1954, an Illinois grand jury indicted Bartkus under a state robbery law. The evidence in the Illinois indictment was substantially identical to that contained in the prior federal indictment. An Illinois court tried and convicted Bartkus and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed his conviction.

Bartkus's attorney appealed to the Supreme Court. The Fifth Amendment--referring to the federal government--provides that no person shall "be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." Bartkus argued that this double jeopardy prohibition had been extended to the states by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: "Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

In January of 1958, the Supreme Court split 4-4, and the case was reargued in October. In March of 1959, by a 5-4 vote, the Court denied Bartkus' appeal and affirmed the lower courts. Justice Frankfurter wrote the opinion for the majority. Justice Black dissented, joined by Chief Justice Warren and Justice Douglas. Justice Brennan filed a separate dissent, which also was joined by Justices Warren and Douglas.

Justice Frankfurter acknowledged that federal and Illinois law officers had cooperated in bringing their separate indictments. For example, the FBI had turned over to Illinois officials all the evidence it had gathered against Bartkus. However, the state officials had brought the case under their own authority. The record did not, Frankfurter argued, show that the state trial was a cover for a second federal prosecution--which would have violated the Fifth Amendment.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Bartkus v. Illinois - Significance, The Bill Of Rights Does Not Restrict The States, Double Jeopardy Is Wholly Uncivilized