Saturday, November 26, 2022

Governor: Puerto Rico is not a Territory

By on January 13, 2016

SAN JUAN – Gov. Alejandro García Padilla expressed confidence Wednesday that the government will prevail in its arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court that Puerto Rico is not a U.S. territory subject to Congress’ full oversight under the territorial clause but shares a dual sovereignty with the United States.

“We will be able to prove our case because we are right,” he said in Ponce, where he met with island mayors, Inter News Services reports.

At issue in the Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle is whether Puerto Rico can prosecute two men for the same offense for which they were convicted by a federal court. In 2008, Puerto Rico prosecutors separately charged Luis Sánchez Valle and Jaime Gómez Vázquez with selling a gun without a license. Before they went to trial on those charges, federal prosecutors charged them under federal laws similar to the island statutes.

They were found guilty and served time in federal prison, but asked the local courts to dismiss the charges because they violated the Fifth Amendment constitutional ban on “double jeopardy,” which prevents defendants from being tried more than once for the same crime. The commonwealth Supreme Court agreed with the men.

To be able to decide on the matter of double jeopardy, the U.S. Supreme Court must decide if Puerto Rico and the United States are two different sovereigns and can prosecute under their own laws. If the top court rules that Puerto Rico is not sovereign but is part of the United States’ sovereignty then it cannot try the men.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that while Puerto Rico has some level of self-governance and its legislature has the power to pass laws, the island is still a territory subject to the plenary powers of Congress. As a result, it cannot try the men for the same crimes for which they were convicted in federal court.

By Eva Lloréns Vélez

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