Today marks the 101st anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of United States v. Oppenheimer in which the Supreme Court applied the common law principle of res judicata to criminal law.
The case behind United States v. Oppenheimer is interesting to say the least. Mr. Oppenheimer was indicted in the Federal District Court of Southern New York on charges of conspiring to conceal assets involved in a bankruptcy trust. This offense had a one-year statute of limitation, and he had previously had the same incitement found to be bared by the statute of limitations. Mr. Opperman made a motion to quash the second indictment, arguing that the previous indictment had already been adjudicated. The court granted his motion, quashed the second indictment and dismissed his case. The State sought writ of certiorari alleging that the motion to quash had improperly been granted.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on October 19th, 1916. The State argued that the trial judge had improperly granted a motion to quash by treating it as a motion for Res Judicata (literally The thing is decided) which at the time only applied to civil trials.
Mr. Oppenheimer argued that his 5th amendment right against double jeopardy and the common law principle of res judicata supported his motion to quash the second indictment.
The Supreme Court rendered its Judgment on December 4th, 1916. The unanimous Court led by revered Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. held that the previous judgment that the case was barred by the statute of limitations. The Court went on note that the 5th amendment’s right against double jeopardy supplemented the principles of res judicata. Finally, the Court held that the principle of res judicata can be used as a bar to prosecution in all criminal cases.
With the Supreme Court’s judgment rendered, Mr. Oppenheimer’s case was dismissed. With Experienced Legal Representation, you can ensure your 5th amendment rights are protected.
Written by Hunter J. White
– Happy birthday!
 United States v. Oppenheimer, 242 U.S. 85, 37 S. Ct. 68 (1916)