Law School Case Brief
Gamble v. United States - 139 S. Ct. 1960 (2019)
The Supreme Court of the United States has 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.
Defendant Terance Martez Gamble pleaded guilty in Alabama state court 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. In federal district court, Gamble filed a motion 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. The district court denied the motion, invoking the dual-sovereignty doctrine, according to which two offenses are not the “the same offence” for double jeopardy purposes if prosecuted by different sovereigns. Gamble pleaded guilty to the federal offense but appealed on double jeopardy grounds. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
Were Gamble’s state and federal convictions violative of double jeopardy?
The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed both convictions. It held that where Gamble was convicted by Alabama for possessing a firearm as a felon, the Double Jeopardy Clause did not preclude his prosecution by the United States under its own felon-in-possession law because a crime under one sovereign’s laws was not “the same offense” as a crime under the laws of another sovereign, and under the dual-sovereignty doctrine, a state could prosecute a defendant under state law even if the federal government had prosecuted him for the same conduct under a federal statute. The Court declined to overrule this long-standing interpretation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment because, contrary to Gamble’s contention, it did not depart from the founding-era understanding of the right enshrined by the Double Jeopardy Clause and Gamble’s historical evidence did not warrant overturning 170 years of precedent.
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