A Federal Remedy for the Steinle Murder in San Francisco

A California jury has just acquitted an illegal alien in the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle. The killer used a .40 caliber handgun stolen from a Federal Bureau of Land Management ranger. The killer first claimed that he was shooting sea lions and then later claimed that the shooting was entirely accidental. After the shooting, the killer threw the gun into San Francisco Bay and failed to render any aid to the victim. Although this acquittal sparked immediate outrage across the nation, a creative and aggressive federal prosecutor could still achieve justice for Steinle’s family.

The double jeopardy clause of the United States Constitution does not prevent a federal prosecution after an acquittal under state law. The “dual sovereignty doctrine” states that the federal government may prosecute a defendant previously acquitted in state court if it has a separate federal interest to vindicate. Here, there are several such interests, because a repeated felony reentrant stole a firearm owned by the U.S. government and killed a U.S. citizen while claiming to have been hunting endangered animals from a pier in San Francisco Bay.

Although he was inexplicably acquitted of homicide, the killer was found guilty of a California state charge of felon in possession of a firearm. The handgun was manufactured by Sig Sauer in New Hampshire, and would have traveled in interstate commerce to California, and therefore the killer also violated Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922(g) and (j) because he is an illegal reentrant felon who possessed a stolen firearm.

Federal law provides for a minimum sentence of 15 years because the killer’s history includes 4 drug felonies, as well as an aggravated felony (along with five deportations and three additional felony convictions for reentry). This sentence could be further enhanced and the killer could also be charged with other crimes, such as a fourth illegal reentry (which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years), burglary and theft (of the ranger’s vehicle and the gun stored therein, respectively), drug trafficking (based upon previous arrests), and even hunting endangered animals (if his incredible excuse is credited). The authorities should use all means at their disposal to obtain justice for Kathryn Steinle.