Supreme Court: State, federal courts can prosecute same crime

Case has Manafort implications

By Ariane de Vogue and Devan Cole, CNN
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court

(CNN) - The Supreme Court on Monday said a person can be charged and tried in state and federal court for the same conduct without running afoul to the double jeopardy clause of the US Constitution because state and federal governments are separate sovereigns.

The ruling in a case closely watched for any impact on President Donald Trump's pardon power upholds decades-old precedent and is a loss for an Alabama man, Terance Gamble, who was convicted twice for the same crime in state and federal courts.

Gamble argued his prosecutions violated the Constitution because the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment forbids successive prosecutions. But writing for a 7-2 court, Justice Samuel Alito ruled against him, holding that the court has "long held" that a crime under one sovereign's laws is "not the same" offense under the laws of another sovereign.

"The historical evidence assembled by Gamble is feeble; pointing the other way are the (the double jeopardy clause's) text, other historical evidence and 170 years of precedent," Alito wrote.

The case had been watched by those following special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation because some thought that if the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of Gamble, it could impact Trump's pardon power, particularly as it relates to Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman who is facing charges in New York that are similar to the federal charges for which he has been tried.

That thinking maintained that if a president were to pardon someone like Manafort for a federal crime, the state could not bring identical charges.

Others say that it would have had no impact because state prosecutors would be savvy enough to bring charges for a different offense.

The Trump administration argued that the so called "dual sovereignty doctrine" should remain on the books.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who voted with the majority, wrote in a separate opinion to explain when he thinks the court can overrule opinions that have been on the books for many years.

"In my view, if the Court encounters a decision that is demonstrably erroneous -- i.e. one that is not a permissible interpretation of the text -- the Court should correct the error, regardless of whether other factors support overruling the precedent," Thomas wrote.

His opinion reinforces a sentiment he has made before, but it comes as the newly solidified conservative majority is potentially poised to overturn other long standing case. The opinion sends a strong signal that Thomas might vote against precedent in other cases, even if the opinion is deeply engrained in the court's jurisprudence.

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