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Name: Gamble v. United States
Case #: 17-646
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 06/17/2019
Subsequent History: 139 S.Ct. 1960

Under the “dual-sovereignty” doctrine of the double jeopardy clause, the Federal Government may prosecute a defendant under a federal statute even if a state has prosecuted him for the same conduct under state law. When a police officer in Mobile Alabama pulled over Gamble’s car for a nonworking headlight, he smelled marijuana. The officer searched Gamble’s car and found a gun, which Gamble was prohibited from possessing due to a prior robbery conviction. After Gamble pleaded guilty to the state offense, he was charged by federal prosecutors for the same instance of gun possession. Gamble’s motion to dismiss the federal charge based on double jeopardy was denied, the district court relying on the dual sovereignty doctrine set forth in Heath v. Alabama (1985) 474 U.S. 82. He pleaded guilty to the federal charge while preserving his appellate rights. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Affirmed. The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment protects individuals from being twice put in jeopardy for the same “offence,” but not for the same conduct or actions. An “offence” is defined by law and each law is defined by a sovereign. A crime committed against two sovereigns constitutes two offenses because each sovereign has an interest to vindicate. The Constitution rests on the principle that the people did not confer all attributes of sovereignty on one single government, but “split the atom of sovereignty” into Federal and State Governments. The dual sovereignty doctrine properly treats the Federal and State Governments as two separate sovereigns. After reviewing prior case law and the history of the double jeopardy clause, the court concluded there was no reason to overrule the dual sovereignty doctrine, which is supported by numerous major U.S. Supreme Court cases spanning 170 years. [Editor’s Note: Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Kavanaugh. Justice Thomas also filed a concurring opinion. Justices Ginsburg and Gorsuch filed dissenting opinions.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: