No one disputes that Terance Gamble, who was convicted of second-degree robbery in 2008, broke the law by possessing the pistol that a police officer found in his car during a traffic stop in Mobile, Alabama, seven years later. In fact, he broke two laws, since both Alabama and the federal government bar people with felony records from owning guns.
Does that mean Gamble committed two offenses? That's the question at the heart of a case that gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to reconsider a longstanding but misbegotten exception to the constitutional ban on double jeopardy, Jacob Sullum writes.
Gamble, whose case the Court will hear on Thursday, was prosecuted and sentenced twice for illegal gun possession, once in state court and once in federal court. As a result, he will remain in prison until February 2020, which is three years later than he would have been released if his punishment had been limited to the state sentence.
On the face of it, Gamble's double punishment violates the Double Jeopardy Clause, which prohibits trying someone twice "for the same offense." But according to a doctrine the Supreme Court first enunciated in 1852, Gamble was punished for two distinct offenses: one against the state of Alabama and one against the federal government.