The United States Supreme Court is currently considering a case that will have major implications in the field of criminal law. The issue in the case is whether the federal and state governments can each prosecute an individual for the same conduct. The Supreme Court has already heard oral arguments in the case and will issue a ruling before its term concludes in June.
Gamble v. United States involves the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution. This clause prevents a defendant from being tried twice for the “same offense.” However, there is currently an exception to this clause that allows two sets of trials for the same conduct. This exception is called the “Dual Sovereignty” doctrine. Essentially, this allows the federal government and state governments to enforce their laws as each has a certain degree of sovereignty. This has allowed certain prosecutions to go forward. For example, after states have either failed to charge police officers with certain crimes, or those officers were acquitted, the federal government stepped in and filed charges alleging a violation of federal civil rights laws. At the same time, for cases such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the Double Jeopardy Clause means that he cannot be tried twice, even after he seemed to admit the crime 12 years after the verdict.
In this case, Terance Martez Gamble was caught with a gun at a traffic stop. Gamble was already a convicted felon and owning a gun is illegal for a felon in Alabama. Gamble was convicted in Alabama of the crime and was sentenced to a year in prison. The federal government also prosecuted Gamble, and he received a 46-month prison sentence. Gamble appealed his sentence as unconstitutional under the Double Jeopardy Clause, and the case has made its way to the Supreme Court.
On appeal, Gamble argues that the “Dual Sovereignty” exception should not exist. The doctrine is not part of a law that has been passed by Congress, nor is it a part of the Constitution. Instead, it originated as part of the previous precedent. Currently, this doctrine gives the federal government wide leeway to charge a defendant for the same conduct that was already prosecuted in a state court. So long as the crime contains one different element than the state law case, the defendant may be charged under this exception.
According to Gamble’s argument, this rule violates common law as English cases decided before the Constitution barred this subsequent prosecution. However, the government argues that it needs to be able to exercise its sovereignty independent of what states may attempt to prosecute.
The “Dual Sovereignty” exception is part of longstanding Supreme Court case law. Typically, no matter the composition of the Court, there is a certain degree of respect for prior case law. The Court attempts to apply the doctrine of stare decisis to let previous decisions stand. During the oral arguments in the case, justices expressed concern that the federal government would lose the ability to prosecute certain cases such as civil rights violations.
If you need legal advice regarding the application of the Double Jeopardy Clause to your specific case, contact an attorney to discuss your case. If the facts arise out of automobile arrest, consult with a dwi lawyer to learn your legal options.