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Collateral estoppel is a part of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against double jeopardy. Its applicability in a particular case is no longer a matter to be left for state court determination within the broad bounds of 'fundamental fairness,' but a matter of constitutional fact that the Supreme Court must decide through an examination of the entire record. Cf. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 285; Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268, 271; Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 51; Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 229; Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 590. 'Collateral estoppel' is an awkward phrase, but it stands for an extremely important principle in our adversary system of justice. It means simply that when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit.


Although first developed in civil litigation, collateral estoppel has been an established rule of federal criminal law at least since the Court's decision more than 50 years ago in United States v. Oppenheimer, 242 U.S. 85. As Mr. Justice Holmes put the matter in that case, ...

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