United States v. Dixon

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Alvin J. Dixon and Michael Foster
LOCATION: Superior Court of the District of Columbia

DOCKET NO.: 91-1231
LOWER COURT: District of Columbia Court of Appeals

CITATION: 509 US 688 (1993)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1992
DECIDED: Jun 28, 1993
GRANTED: Apr 27, 1992

James W. Klein - on behalf of the Respondent
William C. Bryson - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Alvin J. Dixon was arrested on second-degree murder charges and released on bond with an order not to commit any criminal offense. Violation of the order would result in prosecution for contempt of court. While awaiting trial, Dixon was arrested for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia found Dixon guilty of contempt. Dixon moved to dismiss a subsequent indictment for cocaine possession, arguing that it violated the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy. The Superior Court granted the motion.

Michael Foster’s wife obtained a civil protection order requiring that he not “molest, assault, or in any manner threaten or physically abuse” her, or he would face prosecution for contempt of court. Foster’s wife later moved to have him held in contempt for threatening her. Foster was found guilty of contempt on two occasions, but acquitted on three others. Foster was later indicted on several counts of assault arising out of those same threats. He moved to have the charges dismissed arguing that it violated double jeopardy. The trial court denied the motion.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit consolidated the two cases, holding that the subsequent prosecutions were barred by Grady v. Corbin, which held that subsequent prosecutions violate the double jeopardy clause if the two prosecutions require proof of the same “essential element.”


Does the Double Jeopardy Clause bar prosecution of a defendant on substantive criminal charges based on the same conduct for which the defendant previously has been held in contempt of court?

Media for United States v. Dixon

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 02, 1992 in United States v. Dixon

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 91-1231, United States v. Alvin J. Dixon.

Mr. Bryson, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Spectators are admonished, the Court remains in session.

There's to be no talking in the courtroom.

William C. Bryson:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue in this case is whether the double jeopardy clause bars successive prosecutions for contempt of court and substantive criminal offenses which are based on the same underlying conduct.

Our position is that the double jeopardy clause does not bar such successive prosecutions because crimes such as assault with intent to kill or drug trafficking are not the same offense as contempt of court.

Now, this case comes to the Court on certiorari to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

The facts of the case briefly are as follows.

Respondents were both proceeded against under contempt of court proceedings for violating court orders that prohibited them from engaging in certain criminal acts.

Respondent Dixon was barred by an order that was part of a pretrial release condition that provided that he should not commit any crimes, and Respondent Foster was found to have violated a civil protection order which provided that he must not assault, molest, or threaten his wife.

After they were both found in contempt for violating those orders, they were prosecuted criminally for, in Foster's case, assault with intent to kill, and other assaults, and in Dixon's case for the drug trafficking offense that formed the basis for his contempt proceeding.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Now, would the prosecutor in those subsequent criminal proceedings prove anything that wasn't already proved at the contempt hearings?

William C. Bryson:

In these particular cases, no, the prosecutor would not prove any additional facts.

The conduct is the same.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

So literally it falls within at least the language of Grady v. Corbin.

William C. Bryson:

I think literally it probably does fall within the language of the formulation that the Court adopted in Grady.

Now, I hasten to add... this is a major part of our submission here... that that formulation the Court has already said in Felix was unduly broad and the Court noted in Felix that that formulation should not be followed to the limits of its language.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Do you think that this Court in Menna and in Colombo at least indicated that it thought perhaps double jeopardy applied in contempt situations?

William C. Bryson:

No, Your Honor, and let me move directly to Menna and Colombo, because the Respondents discuss Menna and Colombo in some detail--


William C. Bryson:

--And I think they are easily distinguishable.

Both of those cases involved a New York... a sort of double header New York contempt statute.

There was... and if I can go into the details of those statutes, it's important.

One of them was section 750 of the judiciary law of New York, which was contempt, and provided that a court could hold somebody in contempt for a variety of acts, including refusal to comply with an order to testify.

There was another provision of New York law, section 600 of the penal law that was in effect in those days, which had almost exactly the same language, also entitled contempt, and provided that courts could penalize people for various things, including failure to testify in response to a direct order of the court.

To the extent that there's any suggestion... and the Court in this case did not... in... excuse me, in Colombo and Menna did not reach the underlying double jeopardy questions, but to the extent that there's any suggestion that there was merit to the underlying double jeopardy claims, it was simply saying that you can't prosecute somebody for contempt and then come back and say well, we're going to prosecute you for contempt again, when the two contempt proceedings have exactly the same elements. That case did not at all involve the situation that we have here, where we have a contempt proceeding which has elements A and B, and we have criminal acts which are not part of contempt which have elements D, E, and F.

The elements simply do not overlap in this setting and that, in our view, makes all the difference.


David H. Souter:

Mr. Bryson, if I understand what you're saying, the premise of what you're saying is this, that criminal contempt does not have as its element, or as an element, the commission of either one of the two crimes which these respective parties committed.