This brings us back to this year’s case. In 2005, Puerto Rico Sen. Hector Martínez–Maldonado supported legislation that benefited Ranger American, a security company owned by Juan Bravo-Fernandez. As the bill progressed through the commonwealth’s Legislative Assembly, Bravo-Fernandez treated the senator to a lavish Las Vegas weekend, including hotel, meals, and a $1,000 ticket to a WBC Middleweight title bout. (For those scoring at home, Winky Wright edged out Puerto Rican hero Tito Trinidad.) Shortly after the trip, the bill passed. Federal authorities indicted the pair for allegedly conspiring to give and accept a bribe in connection with a federal program, traveling across state lines to do so, and exchanging the bribe itself.
In 2011, a jury acquitted them of conspiring and of traveling, but convicted on the bribe. The government, of course, could not appeal the two acquittals, which are final—but the defendants could and did appeal their one conviction. The court had misread the statute, they argued, and told the jury it could convict the two merely for exchanging an after-the-fact “gratuity” (“Hey, thanks for helping out, here’s a totally unexpected trip to Vegas”) rather than, as the statute requires, a before-the-fact “bribe” (“Please accept this trip to Vegas as a down payment for future corrupt acts.”)
The First Circuit agreed on the reading of the statute. It reversed the single conviction.
At this point, the score is apparently Defendants 2 acquittals, Government 0 convictions—as in Yeager, the case involving one acquittal and two hung juries. The two men now moved to bar retrial on the bribery count. “There was no dispute that [the defendants] agreed to go, and in fact traveled, to Las Vegas,” they argued in a recent filing. “The acquittals thus necessarily rested upon the jury’s determination that [they] did not violate [the bribery statute].”
The guilty verdict might seem to contradict that, they argue—but that verdict was invalid, because the Court of Appeals found that the lower court had used the wrong standard. Like the hung juries in Yeager, the two men argue, it is a “nonevent” and can’t be for double jeopardy purposes. We win, 1-0.
On a second appeal, the First Circuit rejected that argument. Unlike a hung jury, the vacated conviction remains in the record, it held. Thus the verdicts might be simply inconsistent—like the verdicts in the cocaine-possession case decided in 1984. And inconsistent verdicts don’t decide the “ultimate fact.”
So the second trial could go forward. In 2014, in a similar case, the Michigan Supreme Court had reached the opposite conclusion; the Supreme Court will now settle the issue.
In the past three decades, the number of federal crimes has exploded; many of these crimes nest inside each other like Russian dolls—a charge of committing a crime can be bolstered with charges of conspiring to do so, using the phone to do so, traveling to do so, lying about it beforehand in order to do so (fraud), and lying about having done so after the fact (false statement). And that doesn’t even cover the closely related crimes that can also be tacked on to the indictment.