Thursday was a big day for Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million citizens. First, a ruling from the Supreme Court established that defendants cannot be tried for the same crime in both federal and Puerto Rican courts. Later, a landslide vote in the House of Representatives in favor of Puerto Rican debt relief bill PROMESA provided a first step towards fixing Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. Although the ruling and the bill have immediate effects for law and everyday life in the Commonwealth, they also have serious long-term reverberations on Puerto Rican self-rule, America’s relationship with its territories, and Puerto Rican citizenship.
In Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, the justices ruled 6-2 affirmed a ruling from the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico that held that two defendants could not be charged and prosecuted for illegal gun sales in Puerto Rican court if they had already been charged in federal court. Generally, double jeopardy only protects defendants from being tried twice for the same crime in a given state or in federal courts––which could allow a defendant to be tried for the same crime once in a state court and once in a federal court. The Supreme Court ruled that this does not apply to Puerto Rico and that Puerto Rican courts do not have the authority to try anyone for crimes already being tried in federal court.