In a decision that could affect associates of President Donald Trump accused of wrongdoing and hoping for pardons, the Supreme Court has ruled that criminal defendants may be prosecuted for the same offences in both federal and state court.
Since Trump's pardon power extends only to federal crimes, the ruling leaves people he pardons subject to state prosecutions.
The vote was 7-2, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Neil Gorsuch each filing dissents.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said there was no good reason to overrule 170 years of precedents allowing separate prosecutions.
The Constitution's double jeopardy clause generally forbids subsequent prosecutions.
But the Supreme Court has made one exception. Saying that the federal government and the states are independent sovereigns, the court has allowed separate prosecutions of the same conduct in state and federal courts.
The case before the court concerned an Alabama man, Terance Gamble, who was prosecuted by state authorities for possessing a gun after having been convicted of a felony. He was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.
As the state case moved forward, federal prosecutors charged Gamble with the same conduct. This time, he was sentenced to 46 months, with the two prison terms to run concurrently.
Gamble argued that this violated the double jeopardy clause, but lower courts said the dual prosecutions were permissible under Supreme Court precedents.
Alito wrote that Gamble had failed to make the case for overruling those precedents.
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"The historical evidence assembled by Gamble is feeble," he wrote.
"Pointing the other way are the clause's text, other historical evidence and 170 years of precedent."
Alito wrote that states are separate sovereigns much as foreign nations are.
"If, as Gamble suggests, only one sovereign may prosecute for a single act, no American court — state or federal — could prosecute conduct already tried in a foreign court," he wrote.
In dissent, Ginsburg said the court should have overturned the double jeopardy decisions at issue in Gamble's case, saying they had "been subject to relentless criticism by members of the bench, bar and academy".
Written by: Adam Liptak
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