Recently, the Supreme Court reaffirmed a long-standing legal theory- the Constitution does not protect you from being prosecuted twice for the same incident; once in state court and once in federal court. For example, guns are regulated under both state and federal law. In certain areas, state and federal law overlap-they prohibit the same conduct. But how do twin prosecutions actually happen? What are the factors that could lead someone to be prosecuted a second time over the same conduct? Terance Gamble’s experience as a defendant sheds new light on the issue.
Gamble was pulled over for a damaged headlight in Mobile, Alabama. During the traffic stop, the officer smelled marijuana in the car. The officer searched the car and found a loaded 9-mm handgun. Gamble was arrested and charged with violating an Alabama law banning felons from possessing a firearm, often called a “felon-in-possession” law. After pleading guilty in Alabama state court, the Federal Government charged Gamble for the same incident, but under the federal felon-in-possession law.
Gamble’s defense lawyers argued that being prosecuted a second time over the same incident was “double jeopardy,” which is banned by the Fifth Amendment. However, the Supreme Court refused to overrule the “exception” to double-jeopardy, which has been the law of the land for nearly 140 years.
So when should you worry that a federal prosecution will follow your case in state court? First, federal prosecutors can bring a variety of charges associated with firearms and narcotics, especially if the offense involves crossing states lines. In many cases, both local police and the feds can bring charges for crimes involving guns, hacking, child pornography, and human trafficking. It is also not unusual for the local police to work with the feds in fentanyl cases. Given the Supreme Court ruling, it should be expected that there will be an increase in dual prosecutions in such cases. For this reason, it is important that you hire counsel experienced in both federal and state defense.