Gamble v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2019)

The Federal Docket

August 25, 2019

Double Jeopardy – The Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution allows multiple, successive prosecutions as long as they are brought by different sovereigns, such as the state or federal government.

Terance Gamble appealed his federal conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, arguing that his federal prosecution following an Alabama conviction for the exact same offense violated his Fifth Amendment right against Double Jeopardy.

The Court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit, declining to overrule the “dual-sovereignty doctrine” which allows a prosecution for the same offense if the prosecution is brought by a different sovereign. The Court drew on originalist history in finding that “offences” are ultimately defined by sovereigns, and where there are two sovereigns, there are two “offences.”

Justice Thomas concurred, writing that, while he agreed that the historical record supported maintaining the dual-sovereignty doctrine, he believes the founders did not foresee the vast expansion of federal criminal law. He also wrote extensively urging the Court to not invoke stare decisis in the future to uphold precedents that do not adhere to the original meaning of the Constitution or law at issue.

Justice Ginsburg dissented, criticizing the dual-sovereignty doctrine as superficial and arguing that the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits “successive prosecutions for the same offense by parts of the whole USA.” This became especially true, she wrote, when the Double Jeopardy Clause was incorporated against the states.

Justice Gorsuch dissented as well, arguing that the dual-sovereignty exception “finds no meaningful support in the text of the Constitution, its original public meaning, structure, or history.” He cited history and common law in criticizing the majority opinion’s originalist understanding of “offences,” and cautioned that the federalist design of the country was intended to limit government power, not multiply government power.

On certiorari to the Eleventh Circuit

Opinion by Alito, joined by Roberts, Thomas, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Kavanaugh

Concurring Opinion by Thomas

Dissenting Opinion by Ginsburg

Dissenting Opinion by Gorsuch

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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