On Monday, June 17, The United States Supreme court held that criminal defendants may be prosecuted for the same offenses in both federal and state court, reaffirming its long-held view of the dual-sovereignty doctrine.
In Gamble v. United States, Petitioner Terance Gamble was convicted under an Alabama statute for possessing a firearm as a felon. U.S. No. 17-646 (June 17, 2019). Soon after, the government indicted him on the same charges under a federal possession of a firearm statute. The Supreme Court held that the charges did not qualify for double jeopardy protections because of the dual-sovereignty doctrine.
What is Double Jeopardy?
The Fifth Amendment provides that no person shall “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” USCS Const. Amend. 5. Many state constitutions have similar clauses that protect individuals from being tried twice for the same crime. This is crucial for criminal defendants to preserve the finality of their proceedings and to also impose limits on a prosecutor’s power.
Who is eligible for Double Jeopardy Protection?
Double Jeopardy protection applies against re-prosecution for the same crime whether it is a felony, misdemeanor, or juvenile delinquency case. However, if a prosecutor dismisses an indictment or takes other action prior to jeopardy attaching, double jeopardy does not apply.
After indictment, jeopardy can attach at the following stages:
- In a jury trial, when a jury is empaneled and sworn
- In a nonjury trial, when the court begins to hear evidence
If jeopardy has attached and you are found innocent or the judge dismisses the case due to a mistrial, double jeopardy protections prevent prosecutors from bringing the same case against you.
What is the dual-sovereignty doctrine?
Dual-sovereignty is the legal theory that state and federal governments in the United States operate as separate sovereigns. Because of this, they may separately prosecute an individual without violating double jeopardy if the individual breaks the laws of each sovereignty. In Monday’s opinion, the Supreme Court held that “the dual-sovereignty doctrine is not an exception to the double jeopardy right” but instead it follows directly from the Fifth Amendment’s text. Gamble at 1. Because specific offenses are defined by laws, and each “law is defined by a sovereign”, the separate offenses are punishable in each sovereign. Id. at 1.
Double Jeopardy is a fundamental constitutional protection and understanding when and how it impacts your case is critical to constructing the best possible defense. If you have concerns regarding eligibility for double jeopardy protection or defending the same crime in both State and Federal court, reach out to a local criminal defense attorney.
Terpening Law, headquartered in Charlotte, NC, provides exceptional legal representation for professionals, executives, and their businesses in crisis management, federal criminal investigations and trials, and high-stakes civil litigation. If you are in need of professional legal counsel, head to our website at www.TerpeningLaw.com, to learn more about what we do and who we represent.
Serfass v. United States, 420 U.S. 377, 95 S. Ct. 1055 (1975)