Supreme Court Ruling Puts Defendants in Double Trouble
Earlier this year, we blogged about a criminal law case that was pending in the United States Supreme Court. It has now been decided, and the result is not good for criminal defendants who are facing weapons charges, drug charges, or any other charges that may be prosecuted in both state and federal court.
The Supreme Court Case: Gamble v. the United States
In 2008, Terance Gamble was convicted in Alabama state court of second-degree robbery. He served time for this felony, and like all felons, lost his right to possess a firearm.
Fast forward to 2015. Gamble is out of prison, and he gets pulled over by the cops for a traffic violation. A search of his car revealed a 9-millimeter pistol. The state of Alabama charged Gamble with being a felon in possession of a weapon, and Gamble pleaded guilty, was convicted, and sentenced to a year in prison.
While the state of Alabama’s case against Gamble was pending, the feds decided to charge Gamble with the exact same crime — felon in possession of a firearm. Gamble and his attorney objected to this. They argued that under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution — which prohibits the government from trying someone twice for the same crime — the federal government should not be allowed to bring a charge against Gamble that was identical to the one already brought by the state of Alabama.
The lower federal courts basically said, “No way. What we are doing is totally okay.” Gamble appealed this decision but also pleaded guilty to the federal charge, was convicted, and received a 46-month sentence, to be served concurrently with the state sentence. This means he will serve 32 more months in prison than he would have if the only case brought against him was the case by the state of Alabama.
While in prison, Gamble appealed his case to our country’s highest court, the United States Supreme Court.
The court ruled 7 to 2 that what happened to Gamble was just fine. The court confirmed that each state and the federal government are independent sovereigns, who can all make their own laws and prosecute people under those laws.
What Does This Mean?
The decision is a victory for people who want states to have strong rights and the ability to stand up to the federal government. And people are already talking about how it might be used if President Trump pardons someone in his administration for a federal crime that also happens to be a state crime. But it is a real disappointment for people like Gamble who face longer prison sentences because the government got two bites at the apple.
Our advice for anyone who is charged with a crime that is both a federal offense and a state-level crime here in Florida is to lawyer up fast. You may be facing two prosecutions at the same time or one right after the other. You need an attorney that is familiar with both the state and federal system, and it is critical that they be quick on their feet.
There is a big difference between Florida courts and federal courts during the pre-trial stage. In Florida state courts you can get better discovery — everything but attorney work product and privileged information must be handed over to you if you ask for it. This can help you put up a much better defense, and may even lead to your case being dismissed.
The government knows this, so sometimes the state court will dismiss your case right away, and then the feds will swoop in and file the exact same charges against you, but in federal court. When this happens, you lose the ability to get that state-based discovery. It puts you at a real disadvantage. So, you need to work with an attorney that is quick to file discovery requests in state court but prepared to fight for your rights in both criminal justice systems.
Posted in: Criminal