Gabe Watson, an Alabama man who was accused of killing his wife in Australia in 2003, faces possible murder charges in Alabama for the crime. Watson plead guilty to manslaughter charges in Australia and subsequently served 18 months in prison in that country. He is accused of killing his wife while scuba diving in Australia on the couple's honeymoon.
Many people, apparently including Alabama Attorney General Troy King, have shown their unhappiness with the Australian sentence in this case publicly, and have searched for ways to punish Mr. Watson more severely for his alleged crime. Now it appears that the State of Alabama will be charging Mr. Watson again for apparently the same offense that he has already served a sentence for in Australia.
The obvious question that this turn of events brings to mind is whether this Alabama charge can stand up to Constitutional challenges. At first glance, it appears to fly in the face of the Double Jeopardy clause of the United States Constitution. This clause is found in the fifth Amendment to the Constitution and states "[no person shall] be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."
There are several notable circumstances where this legal principle is seemingly not followed. One of the most common of which is the exception referred to as the "separate sovereigns" exception. A common example of this occurs when a person violates both state and federal law by the same actions and is therefore charged both by the state and the federal government. I think that in the current situation with Mr. Watson, the "separate sovereigns" exception could easily be applied.
Once the obvious hurdle of double jeopardy is avoided, the Alabama charges have another, much more difficult hurdle to pass. The state of Alabama generally would have no jurisdiction to prosecute behavior that occurred outside of the state of Alabama. It appears that the state of Alabama will attempt to navigate this hurdle by a claim that the crime was planned while Mr. Watson was in Alabama prior to the trip to Australia. It will be very interesting to see what kind of evidence the state will put on to prove this case. The state will be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all of the elements of the offense. This means that they will have to convince a jury that there was a plan to kill his wife, that the plan was made at least partially in Alabama, and then that Mr. Watson killed his wife as charged. This all seems like a tough case for the state to make.