Gamble v. United States, 587 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 1960 (Jun. 17, 2019)

Citing the text of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, historical evidence, and “170 years of precedent,” the Court refused to overturn the “dual-sovereignty” doctrine and held that the defendant’s federal prosecution for unlawful possession of a handgun was not barred by principles of double jeopardy despite the fact that the defendant had been previously convicted for the same instance of possession under state law. 

The defendant pleaded guilty in Alabama state court to possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a crime of violence and thereafter was indicted by the United States for the analogous federal offense based on the same instance of possession.  He moved to dismiss on the ground that the federal indictment was for “the same offence” as the one at issue in his state conviction and thus exposed him to double jeopardy.  The district court denied the motion and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, each citing the dual-sovereignty doctrine – the long-standing principle that two offenses are not the “same offence” for double jeopardy purposes if prosecuted by different sovereigns.  Reviewing the text of the Double Jeopardy Clause, historical evidence, and its precedent, the Court affirmed the lower courts and declined to depart from the doctrine.

Dissenting from the majority opinion, Justice Ginsburg characterized the dual-sovereignty doctrine as “misguided” and, for reasons explained in her dissenting opinion, would have overruled it.  Dissenting separately, Justice Gorsuch also would have overruled the doctrine, saying that it “was wrong when it was invented, and remains wrong today.”