Majority Appears Ready To Uphold “Separate Sovereigns” Doctrine

from SCOTUSblog

When Terance Gamble was pulled over by police in Alabama three years ago for having a faulty headlight, he probably didn’t think that prosecutors would make a federal case out of it. And he certainly wouldn’t have imagined that his case would make national headlines – not so much for its own sake, but because of what a win for Gamble might mean for prosecutions arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. Both of these things did happen, but after nearly 80 minutes of oral argument this morning, Gamble seemed unlikely to prevail on his argument that the federal charges against him violate the Constitution’s double jeopardy clause, which would in turn preserve the ability of state prosecutors to bring charges against defendants in the Mueller investigation even if they receive pardons from President Donald Trump for any federal charges brought against them.

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6 Responses to Majority Appears Ready To Uphold “Separate Sovereigns” Doctrine

  1. Yash Wagle December 7, 2018 at 5:47 pm #

    I found this article to be fascinating. The article discusses the current Supreme Court case Gamble v. The United States. Although this case is seemingly unrelated to the Mueller investigation we see that the Gamble v. U.S decision could impact Mueller’s investigation of Russian collusion in the 2016 election. These two widely different circumstances are connected by the two conflicting legal concepts that are being brought up in the Gamble case.
    Gamble (Petitioner in the case) was arrested three years ago for possession of a firearm while being a felon. Gamble’s possession of the firearm violated both state and federal laws. Gamble was already charged, prosecuted, and sentenced to 1 year in prison by the state of Alabama, where the arrest occurred. The issue the Supreme Court looks to solve is regarding the right for Gamble to once again be prosecuted by the federal government for the same firearm violation. Gamble’s defense argues that federal prosecution would be unlawful, and would violate the Constitution’s 5th amendment double jeopardy clause. This clause basically states that no person shall be prosecuted for the same crime twice. The argument against Gamble is that of the “Separate Sovereigns” doctrine. This set of beliefs was actually put forth by the Supreme Court over 170 years ago. The doctrine basically believes the state and federal government to be sovereigns, giving them the ability to prosecute separately for the same crime. It is therefore understood that a criminal offense that violates both state and federal laws can be prosecuted twice, effectively bypassing double jeopardy.
    Over the 170 years the principle of separate sovereigns has routinely been upheld by courts. From the information from this article it seems that the Supreme Court justices will uphold this doctrine once again. 5 of the 8 justices seem to see substantial reasons as to why the idea of separate sovereigns is still necessary. Justices Alito and Kavanaugh have even brought up hypothetical cases that would occur if separate sovereigns didn’t exist. The hypothetical case ventures to show how the court would act if terrorists murdered an American tourist in a foreign country, and were acquitted there. With the absence of separate sovereigns in this hypothetical case the U.S would possibly not be able to prosecute the terrorist if they were acquitted in another land. Justice Kagan was also very concerned about how overturning this doctrine would conflict with precedence, and stare decicis.
    The connection between Gamble v. U.S , and the Mueller investigation comes about in the potential scenario President Trump pardons the members of his group who helped collude with the Russians in the 2016 election. Under that scenario the absence of separate sovereigns would allow Trump’s associates to go scot-free, and would even let them escape prosecution by the state courts. With the separate sovereigns doctrine, even if Trump pardons his associates they could still potentially be prosecuted for the same crime in state courts. By being prosecuted in state courts Trump does not have the ability to control his associate’s fate via presidential pardon.
    I myself am very confused and conflicted with the separate sovereign’s doctrine, and its ability to bypass double jeopardy. I definitely see how the absence of separate sovereigns would be concerning, especially in the potential scenario Trump pardons his associates. However, I am also concerned of how such a doctrine came into being. The Supreme Court’s position according to the separation of powers is to hold the other two branches to the standards put forth by the Constitution. By accepting the separate sovereign’s doctrine/belief the Court in my opinion bypasses the Constitution. Also from by brief understanding of the separate sovereigns doctrine it seems that such a doctrine was not created through any type of legislation. Instead, separate sovereign’s doctrine came as a result from numerous Supreme Court cases. In my opinion this is also concerning. I view the court establishing this “doctrine” as creating a law, something that is not in their power. Still, it will be very interesting to see how the Supreme Court decides this case.

  2. Daniel McNulty January 26, 2019 at 5:49 pm #

    This case of Gamble v. United States is one that absolutely has relevance to the Mueller investigation that is still in process. Although they are completely different, they can be connected through two similarities. The similarities that can be brought up are the two conflicting legal concepts that both Gamble and Mueller face. In the Gamble v. United States case, Gamble’s defense is claiming that it is unlawful to prosecute someone for the same crime on both the state and federal level according to the 5th Amendment. 5 out of the 8 Supreme Court Justices were in disagreement with this notion, with Bret Kavanaugh using a different hypothetical to prove his point. He stated that if a terrorist were to kill an American tourist overseas and that terrorist was already convicted on that land, the US should still be able to go forth and prosecute that terrorist as well. In comparison, this relates to the Mueller investigation, of the collusion with Russia in the 2016 Presidential Election. If found guilty on the federal level, President Trump would have the power of pardoning the ruling, potentially leaving there to be no consequence. With Separate Sovereigns, Mueller would still be able to be prosecuted on a state level, not allowing him to get off free.

  3. Rayzan Alarashi January 27, 2019 at 9:29 pm #

    The concept of being prosecuted twice for the same offense is certainly one that can raise controversy no matter the issue being handled. In Gamble’s case, he is arguing that being prosecuted twice by the state and federal government for possessing marijuana and a firearm is going openly against the Constitutions double jeopardy clause. In his defense Gamble certainly has the right to appealing the charges set against him, but by no means does this enable him to be freed of his charges. No matter the decision that Gamble faces it seems very unlikely that he will get all supreme court judges to side with him which. This will inevitably cause him to reap the repercussions of his actions. Whats surprising to me is that we have not seen many similar cases in the past where an individual like Gamble uses the Constitutions double jeopardy clause to argue in their favor.

  4. Diamond Vasquez January 31, 2019 at 7:50 pm #

    It is interesting how, sometimes, something really small can be turned into a very big situation, which seems to be the case in this Supreme Court case. In Gamble vs. United States, Gamble was stopped by police four having a “faulty headlight.” With this, police found two bags of marijuana, a digital scale, and a handgun in his car, leading to the charge of violating state drug laws and being in possession of a firearm, under both state and federal laws. Gamble responded by saying that this charge violated the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution, stated in the fifth amendment, stating that no one should “be twice put in jeopardy for the same offence,” according to the article. The lower courts counterclaim of this argument stated that this was coinciding with the “separate sovereigns doctrine,” guaranteeing that state and federal governments are two different sovereigns, making it possible to prosecute someone for the same charge. Though, the Supreme Court might overturn, or reverse, this observation in favor of Gamble.
    I feel that the verdict of this case should favor the United States argument, when considering the arguments of the double jeopardy clause versus the “separate sovereigns doctrine.” It is valid that the federal and state governments are two various sovereigns; federal government overrules the state government when it comes to court decisions. Therefore, that is one reason why federal and state governments are viewed as two different rulers, so to speak. The Supreme Court should stick with using earlier decisions made in earlier cases, known as the process of “stare decisis;” with this principle, a court tries to avoid overruling the earlier decision, and the earlier decisions found, if the courts have experienced this sort of case in the past, will be a guide to help them to decide towards a certain case. Justice Kagan stressed the importance of “stare decisis,” stating that it is a doctrine of “humility” and explaining, “… we don’t want to overrule an earlier decision or rule just because we think we can do it better.” I am more in agreeance with Justice Kagan than with Justice Gorsuch’s and Justice Ginsburg’s approach of reconsidering the separate sovereigns doctrine.

  5. Nicholas Meyerback January 31, 2019 at 8:58 pm #

    In 2015 Terrance Gamble was arrested for possession of marijuana and a firearm after he was pulled over for a broken taillight. After serving a year in state prison he was prosecuted for a federal firearms charge. The case gained national attention when Gamble’s lawyer, Louis Chaiten, argued that this action violated the 5th amendment’s protection from double jeopardy. The district court overruled this notion on the basis of the dual-sovereignty exemption. Dual-sovereignty or the separate sovereigns doctrine holds that the federal government and the states are two independent entities. Therefore, because Gamble violated a state and a federal law he is under the jurisdiction of both the state and federal courts.

    The Gamble case shed light on America’s use of federalism. Federalism is a political system in which power is divided between a central government and local governments. In the United States local governments are represented by the states and smaller municipalities that have their own prerogative authority. Federalism is necessary in the United States because of a number of fundamental precepts.

    The primary reason involves the diversity of the United States. A diverse population requires a system in which ideas shared by a common ethnic or racial group may be represented equally. Therefore, the cultural fragmentation omnipresent in American society demands a partially fragmented political organization. Similar is the concept that diverse geography leads to unique economic and societal circumstances resulting in divergent values. Subsequently, geographically expansive nations and diverse nations like Brazil, Canada, India and Russia adapt a federalist model.

    Federalism in the United States is also related to the social contract theory that was especially prevalent previous to the 20th century. Social contract deals with the relationship between the frontier and the capital or central government. This power relationship prevailed as a result of a lack of infrastructure that connected the country to the extent seen today. Social contract insures a mutual relationship between the periphery and the political core of a country. It protects the rights of both parties, preventing the core from oppressing the periphery and barring the periphery from succeeding.
    Federalism is significant because it is partially responsible for the organization of congress . A bicameral legislature was adopted in the United States to ensure the rights of states. Not only does American geography vary, population is also unevenly distributed. This creates controversy when representation is based on population. To resolve the issue a bicameral legislature comprised of a House of Representatives and a Senate was put in place.

  6. Jack F Comfort January 31, 2019 at 11:47 pm #

    This case poses an interesting take on the constitutional right of double jeopardy. In this case, it looks at whether or not the same charge can be tried in two different levels of court, rather than the stereotypical view of winning a case and then being tried on it again. The court has a special term for this called “separate sovereigns” doctrine.This case is important because it can be looked at in a multitude of different levels and can be applied to one certain national news headline. The defendants argument is how other courts would look at this case, and in particular they look at the court of England. They say the interpretation of the law is very ambiguous saying that it would be unconstitutional for the same charge to be tried. The counterclaim by the court was an example of a terrorist on american citizens on foreign soil, would we then not be able to give the terrorists a trial if they are already receiving a trial in another country. This case carries a lot of weight because the statue in question is apart of the Constitution and all constitutional interpretations go straight to the Supreme Court. The judges might be apprehensive to over rule the separate sovereigns doctrine because it’s a law we’ve had enacted for almost 170 years, to overturn this law would be a landmark case. Another question would be what to do with all the cases that went the other way with the separate sovereigns doctrine if they were to overturn it, not only that but it directly ties in with the Mueller investigation and what he’s facing right now. Either way the outcome will be very impactful.

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