SCOTUS Upholds Dual-Sovereignty Doctrine in Gamble v United States
In Gamble v. United States, 587 U. S. ____ (2019), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the “separate sovereigns” doctrine. Accordingly, states and the federal government may continue prosecuting individuals for the same crime.
Facts of the Case
Terance Gamble pleaded guilty to a charge of violating Alabama’s felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm statute. Federal prosecutors then indicted him for the same instance of possession under federal law. Gamble moved to dismiss, arguing that the federal indictment was for “the same offence” as the one at issue in his state conviction, thus exposing him to double jeopardy under the Fifth Amendment. Under the Fifth Amendment’s Double-Jeopardy Clause, no person shall “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
Citing that the Supreme Court has long held that two offenses “are not the ‘same offence’” for double jeopardy purposes if “prosecuted by different sovereigns,” Heath v. Alabama, 474 U.S. 82 (1985), the District Court denied the motion. Gamble pleaded guilty to the federal offense but appealed on double jeopardy grounds. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
By a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court affirmed Gamble’s conviction. Justice Samuel Alito wrote on behalf of the majority.
In reaching its decision, the majority emphasized that the dual-sovereignty doctrine is not an exception to the double jeopardy right but follows from the Fifth Amendment’s text, noting that the Double Jeopardy Clause protects individuals from being “twice put in jeopardy” “for the same offence.”
“An ‘offence,’” Alito explained, is “defined by a law, and each law is defined by a sovereign. So where there are two sovereigns, there are two laws, and two ‘offences.’” Accordingly, “a crime against two sovereigns constitutes two offenses because each sovereign has an interest to vindicate.”
The majority rejected Gamble’s argument that Supreme Court’s precedent contradicts the common-law rights that the Double Jeopardy Clause was originally understood to engraft onto the Constitution. “[T]he historical evidence assembled by Gamble is feeble; pointing the other way are the Clause’s text, other historical evidence, and 170 years of precedent,” Justice Alito wrote.
In a rare alliance, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Ruth Bader Ginsburg both dissented, arguing that Gamble’s conviction should be overturned.“In our ‘compound republic,’ the division of authority between the United States and the States was meant to operate as ‘a double security [for] the rights of the people,’” Justice Ginsburg wrote. “The separate- sovereigns doctrine, however, scarcely shores up people’s rights. Instead, it invokes federalism to withhold liberty.”
While he echoed many of Ginsburg’s arguments against the separate sovereigns doctrine, Gorsuch was also critical of the majority’s position on stare decisis. “And while we rightly pay heed to the considered views of those who have come before us, especially in close cases, stare decisis isn’t supposed to be ‘the art of being methodically ignorant of what everyone knows,’” Justice Gorsuch wrote. “Indeed, blind obedience to stare decisis would leave this Court still abiding grotesque errors like Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Korematsu v. United States.”
Gorsuch further argued that 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.”
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Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.