United States v. Willis, No. 20-5229 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Willis was charged in Kentucky state court with murder, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, and first-degree possession of a controlled substance. The gun charge was severed from the other charges before trial. Willis obtained a directed verdict on the drug charge and was acquitted on the murder charge; he was convicted of the lesser offense of reckless homicide and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. The federal government indicted Willis as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g) the following month. The Commonwealth dismissed the state gun charge. Willis filed an unsuccessful motion to dismiss for prosecutorial vindictiveness, then moved to dismiss based on double jeopardy, reasoning that he was previously convicted of committing reckless homicide with the same handgun.
The district court denied that motion, holding that neither double jeopardy nor collateral estoppel applies when two sovereigns prosecute a defendant based on the same underlying conduct. Willis was not the victim of a “sham prosecution,” an exception to the dual sovereignty doctrine. The Sixth Circuit dismissed Willis’s appeal. In addition to his double jeopardy claim being barred by the dual sovereignty doctrine, Willis did not have a colorable claim because the federal offense and the state crime have different elements.