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Fed. Cts. Retain Concurrent Jurisdiction, Even When Fed. Claims Are Unproven

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD | Last updated on

In a case stemming from the Virgin Islands, the Third Circuit had to determine whether a federal court retains concurrent jurisdiction over local claims, even after the federal claims are unproven.

Underlying Claims

Ronald Gillette is a convicted sex offender, and officials received a tip that he was unregistered, and living in St. Croix. Following up on the tip, officials found that he was indeed an unregistered sex offender, and they found him living with a fifteen-year-old boy, and had engaged in sexual relations with him since the boy was twelve. Further investigations revealed that Gillette had also victimized another minor boy.

Gillette was indicted on two federal counts stemming from his failure to register as a sex offender, with 28 local counts stemming from his victimization of the two boys.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

Under 48 U.S.C. § 1612(c), the District Court of the Virgin Islands is granted concurrent jurisdiction over local crimes that "are of the same or similar character or part of, or based on, the same act or transaction." All that is needed is a "sufficient nexus" between the local and federal charges, and jurisdictional requirements are met.

Here, Gillette's federal counts were dismissed after a bench trial, but the court did not dismiss the local charges. On appeal, Gillette argued that the district court did not have jurisdiction to hear the local claims. The Third Circuit did not agree.

Purpose and Practicality

Citing legislative history, the Third Circuit noted that one of the purposes of § 1612 was "to obviate the need for trying in different courts separate aspects of the same offense or of closely related offenses." Furthermore, the court noted that § 1612 "does not condition the exercise of concurrent jurisdiction over local charges on whether the related federal offenses are proven."

The Third Circuit made the reasonable decision here. To premise jurisdiction on the successful proving of charges would make criminal litigation and endless cycle of district courts having, and then potentially not having, concurrent jurisdiction. With a clear line in the sand, the District Court of the Virgin Islands can move forward confidently knowing it has concurrent jurisdiction in matters that have a sufficient nexus between the federal and local charges.

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