Dual Sovereignty Is Here To Stay

posted by Judge_Burke @ 18:40 PM
June 18, 2019

From The Sentencing Law & Policy Blog:

Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court has decided not to overturn its longstanding “dual sovereignty” doctrine in the case of Gamble v. US, No. 17-646 (S. Ct. June 17, 2019) (available here). Here is how the Court’s majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, gets started:

We consider in this case whether to overrule a longstanding interpretation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. That Clause provides that no person may be “twice put in jeopardy” “for the same offence.” Our double jeopardy case law is complex, but at its core, the Clause means that those acquitted or convicted of a particular “offence” cannot be tried a second time for the same “offence.” But what does the Clause mean by an “offence”?

We have long held that a crime under one sovereign’s laws is not “the same offence” as a crime under the laws of another sovereign. Under this “dual-sovereignty” doctrine, a State may prosecute a defendant under state law even if the Federal Government has prosecuted him for the same conduct under a federal statute.

Or the reverse may happen, as it did here. Terance Gamble, convicted by Alabama for possessing a firearm as a felon, now faces prosecution by the United States under its own felon-in-possession law. Attacking this second prosecution on double jeopardy grounds, Gamble asks us to overrule the dual-sovereignty doctrine. He contends that it departs from the founding-era understanding of the right enshrined by the Double Jeopardy Clause. But the historical evidence assembled by Gamble is feeble; pointing the other way are the Clause’s text, other historical evidence, and 170 years of precedent. Today we affirm that precedent, and with it the decision below.

Notably, Justice Thomas pens an extended concurrence in Gamble, but does so “to address the proper role of the doctrine of stare decisis.” Thereafter, Justice Ginsburg authors a lengthy dissent, and Justice Gorsuch authors an even longer dissent. I hope to have more to say about all these opinions in the days to come, but the close of Justice Gorsuch’s dissent seem immediately blogworthy:

Enforcing the Constitution always bears its costs. But when the people adopted the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, they thought the liberties promised there worth the costs. It is not for this Court to reassess this judgment to make the prosecutor’s job easier. Nor is there any doubt that the benefits the framers saw in prohibiting double prosecutions remain real, and maybe more vital than ever, today. When governments may unleash all their might in multiple prosecutions against an individual, exhausting themselves only when those who hold the reins of power are content with the result, it is “the poor and the weak,” and the unpopular and controversial, who suffer first — and there is nothing to stop them from being the last. The separate sovereigns exception was wrong when it was invented, and it remains wrong today.


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