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Lanza, United States v.


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260 U.S. 377 (1922), argued 23 Nov. 1922, decided 11 Dec. 1922 by vote of 9 to 0; Taft for the Court. Bootlegger Vito Lanza, convicted and fined in April 1920 for manufacturing, transporting, and possessing intoxicating liquor in violation of Washington state law, was subsequently charged with having violated the Volstead Act, the federal prohibition law, on the basis of the same evidence used in the state prosecution. A federal district court blocked the second prosecution as double jeopardy, and the U.S. Department of Justice appealed. In sustaining the second conviction of Lanza, a unanimous Supreme Court held that state and federal governments each had independent sovereignty to punish offenses against their peace and dignity. In respect to liquor control, states had original authority. While the Eighteenth Amendment established prohibition as national policy, its “concurrent power to enforce” clause preserved the right of each state to continue exercising an independent power as long as it was not inconsistent with federal statute. The Fifth Amendment only barred repeated proceedings by the federal government and did not apply to a situation of this sort. Since nearly every state either had a prohibition law prior to the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment or had passed one immediately after ratification, the Lanza decision meant that prohibition violators could be indicted and punished twice for almost every offense. While the Taft Court was clearly seeking, in this and other decisions, to buttress the new Eighteenth Amendment, the public perceived that traditional liberties were being restricted in the effort to enforce prohibition.

David E. Kyvig

Subjects: Law.


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