United States Supreme Court Upholds “Dual Sovereignty” in Federal and State Criminal Cases

Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

The Supreme Court of the United States, in Gamble v. United States, affirmed the longstanding principle of “dual sovereignty” jurisdiction in criminal cases. Simply put, this means that if you’re charged with a crime in federal court, you can also be charged with that exact same crime in state court. This does not violate the “double jeopardy” provision of the Fifth Amendment.

In the Gamble case, Terrence Gamble was convicted of felon-in-possession of a firearm in Alabama state court. Felon-in-possession of a firearm is also a violation of federal law, so the United States Attorney’s Office elected to prosecute him as well. If this seems profoundly unfair, it is. But this concept of federalism – or the separation of powers between the states and the federal government – is a founding principle of our government.

While these duplicate state and federal prosecutions may occur in Alabama, fortunately they’re not all that common in California. They’re especially uncommon in Los Angeles County.

Generally speaking, in Los Angeles if a defendant has a state case that the feds then want to prosecute, the Los Angeles County District Attorney often agrees to dismiss the state case. This is especially true in narcotics prosecutions and fraud cases. However, in Los Angeles County a lot of bigger investigations are handled by task forces that combine resources from both federal and state resources. In these cases, the federal government may prosecute one piece of the case and the DA will prosecute another piece of the case. Example: Someone is charged with manufacturing and sale/distribution of narcotics. The feds may take the sales/distribution case while the LA County DA may pick up the manufacturing case.

Which leads me to the next point. Aside from the big Constitutional law concepts, dual sovereignty has very practical ramifications. If you are facing a case where both the local law enforcement and federal agents are involved in an investigation, it is imperative that your attorney keep tabs and remain in contact with both sets of investigators and prosecutors. If there are going to be two prosecutions, understanding the posture and timing of each case is critical. It plays into both strategy and tactics of how to craft a defense, whether to go to trial, which case you wish to try first, how to structure motions that need to be run, the list goes on and on. Just make sure the lawyer knows how to handle these situations.

Bottom Line: If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in state or federal court or both, do not hesitate to contact me for a confidential consultation. I can be reached at (323) 633-3423 or via the secure contact form on this page.

Let's talk