Heath v. Alabama

PETITIONER: Larry Gene Heath
LOCATION: Heath Residence

DOCKET NO.: 84-5555
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Alabama

CITATION: 474 US 82 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 09, 1985
DECIDED: Dec 03, 1985

Ronald J. Allen - on behalf of the petitioner
William Duncan Little, III - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case

In August of 1981, Larry Gene Heath hired two men to kidnap and murder his pregnant wife. Heath met the men in Georgia, just across the state line from the Heath residence in Alabama, led them back to the house, and left. Rebecca Heath’s body was later found on the side of a road in Georgia. Both Georgia and Alabama authorities pursued investigations in which there was a degree of cooperation.

On September 4, 1981, Georgia authorities arrested Heath, and he waived his Miranda rights and confessed. He was indicted by a grand jury in Troop County, Georgia, and pled guilty in February 10, 1982. On May 5, 1982, Heath was indicted by a grand jury in Russell County, Alabama. Prior to the trial, Heath argued that his conviction and sentencing in Georgia barred any prosecution in Alabama and that Alabama lacked jurisdiction. The trial court rejected both claims, and Heath was convicted. The Alabama Court of Appeals affirmed, as did the Alabama Supreme Court.



Does the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment prevent two separate states from trying an individual for the same crime?

Media for Heath v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 09, 1985 in Heath v. Alabama

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Heath against Alabama.

Mr. Allen, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Ronald J. Allen:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, Mr. Heath was indicted in Georgia for the murder of his wife after joint investigation between Alabama and Georgia officials for capital murder.

The same day that he was indicted, a notice of aggravating circumstance was filed by the state, which is the method by which Georgia indicates its intent to seek the death penalty.

Some time later, he pleaded guilty to that murder, and we now reach a factual nuance that will take me a minute or so to explore of some significance.

In the state's brief they assert in Pages 10, 31, and 32 that the defendant pled guilty to life imprisonment.

That is not supported by the record, and if it is supported by the record, it causes the state a bit of a dilemma.

The record shows that he pled guilty to murder, and then it is uncontradicted that he went through what is called the unified appeals procedure, which is the method by which Georgia... these are hearings by which they decide if the death penalty is to be imposed, and subsequently a life sentence was imposed.

I think the reason the state asserts that he pled guilty to the life sentence is they indicate or at least argue that he was never in jeopardy for his life, whereas in fact the record supports that he was, but more importantly, suppose the government is right.

Suppose the state of Alabama is correct that he did plead guilty to life imprisonment.

Under those circumstances, the dilemma that the state faces is either that they are essentially conceding that their agents denied a trial, that there was a plea agreement, committed perjury, or if it was somebody other than those agents who entered into the plea agreement, serious questions of immunity are raised, because obviously if there was an agreement in Georgia, it would contain, at least implicitly, statements about immunity, and if that is the case, one of the issues that this Court would face should it apply the dual sovereignty doctrine to successive state prosecutions is how to work out those kinds of questions of immunity.

Warren E. Burger:

What would you say, Mr. Allen, if the record showed that there was a kidnapping and rape in one state, either Georgia or Alabama, and then another day the murder occurred?

What would you... would your view be the same?

Ronald J. Allen:

I am sorry, sir.

You mean across a state line?

Warren E. Burger:

The kidnapping and rape in, say--

Ronald J. Allen:

Say, Georgia?

Warren E. Burger:

--and taking them across the state line and murdering the victim on the next day.

Ronald J. Allen:

I think it is quite clear, Your Honor, for reasons I am going to develop in detail, that we have to respect territoriality in the criminal justice process, and that under those circumstances, the murder occurred in the one state, the kidnapping and the rape occurred in another.

Now, if one of those acts is not an element of an offense, and is relevant somehow to the sentencing process, then it strikes me that the territoriality principle would not restrict the state from considering that element in its decision to reach a conclusion of capital punishment.

The interesting fact in this case is that the sentencing criteria in this case is the kidnapping.

The sine qua non is the murder, and that occurred in Georgia, not in Alabama.

Now, this Court asked the parties to address the applicability of the dual sovereignty doctrine to successive state prosecutions.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, was there some offense in Alabama?

Ronald J. Allen:

If... was there some offense?

If there was a kidnapping, there was a kidnapping most likely in Alabama.

The record isn't absolutely clear about that, to be quite frank about it, but--

William H. Rehnquist:

How about the contracts to kill the person?

Ronald J. Allen:

--Those things were entered into in Georgia.

In Georgia?