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Double Jeopardy May Bar Civil Suit For Actions Already Criminally Prosecuted


In United States v. Halper, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a defendant cannot be sued for the same actions that led to his criminal prosecution, if the potential penalty in the civil litigation is so large that it should be considered “punishment.” In Halper, the manager of a medical lab had been prosecuted under the federal false claims law for filing fake Medicare reimbursement claims. After his conviction, the government then filed a civil lawsuit under the false claims law, seeking damages of nearly $150,000. The Court rules that because those damages so far exceeded what the government actually lost as a result of the manager’s wrongdoing – $585 – it would be inflicting a second “punishment.” So, the civil action is barred by the double jeopardy clause.