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Waller v. Florida

Significance

Because the state felony charge was based solely on acts covered in the previous municipal court conviction for the lessor included offenses, the second trial constituted double jeopardy violating the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

In 1967, Joseph Waller, Jr., along with several other persons, removed a canvas mural from the inside of the city hall of St. Petersburg, Florida. As Waller and the others were carrying the mural across town, they were stopped by the police. A struggle broke out resulting in a damaged mural and the arrest of Waller and his compatriots. Waller was charged with destruction of city property and disorderly breach of the peace. Found guilty of both counts, Waller was sentenced to six months in the county jail.

At this point, the state of Florida stepped in and charged Waller with grand larceny based on the same acts that had already gotten him convicted on the city ordinances. Before the circuit court trial began Waller and his lawyers attempted to stop the trial by appealing to the Supreme Court of Florida, but his motion was denied without opinion. Waller was then tried and found guilty in circuit court and sentenced to a term in prison of between six months and five years, less the six months already served.

Waller then appealed his second conviction to the Florida District Court of Appeals which considered and then rejected his claim of double jeopardy stating:

This double Jeopardy argument has long been settled contrary to the claims of the petitioner. We see no reason to recede from our established precedent on the subject. Long ago it was decided that an act committed within municipal limits may be punished by city ordinance even though the same act is also proscribed as a crime by a state statute. An offender may be tried for the municipal offense in the city court and for the crime in the proper state court. Conviction or acquittal in either does not bar prosecution in the other.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and on 13 November 1969 arguments were made. On 6 April 1970, Chief Justice Burger issued the unanimous decision of the Court "that the Florida courts were in error to the extent of holding that--`even if a person has been tried in a municipal court for the identical offense for which he is charged in a state court, this would not be a bar to the prosecution of such person in the proper state court.'" Therefore, the Court stated, the second trial of Waller, which resulted in a guilty verdict, was invalid, the judgement vacated and the case remanded to the Florida District Court of Appeals.

The true importance of this ruling rests not in the striking down of the outdated notion of "Dual Sovereignty" which allowed each level of government its successive crack at the defendant. Rather, it is in the rulings extension of the Fifth Amendment's protection against double jeopardy, from the Constitution's Bill of Rights, to state cases as well.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Waller v. Florida - Significance, Motion To Suppress