I suspect most people don’t realize there is a key legal loophole that allows people to be prosecuted more than once for the same crime. It’s understandable that people would not realize this, as the Fifth Amendment pretty clearly states: “… nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…” It’s a principle handed down through the common law, and appears to date all the way back to the Roman Empire. However, U.S. courts have allowed people to be tried, and punished, for duplicate offenses if those offenses are prosecuted in different jurisdictions: State and Federal. That is, even if a state court has tried, convicted, and sentenced someone for a charge in state court, the federal government can also try, convict, and sentence them in federal court. The sentences can even run consecutively, that is, one after the other.
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a decision in a case, Gamble v. United States, that could have reversed the long-standing exception to the bar on double jeopardy. Instead, a 7-2 majority upheld the double jeopardy exception. The majority opinion found that the separate laws are defined by different sovereigns: although “separate sovereigns” is a judicial construct that does not appear in the Constitution. Mark Joseph Stern at Slate points out that dissenting justices Ginsburg and Gorsuch cite founding father Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist papers, argue that sovereignty derives from the people and that the federal and state governments are to be regarded as “ONE WHOLE”. So, the two-sovereignty theory fails the framer’s intent test, as well as failing to convince the court’s leading textualist in Gorsuch. The plain language of the Fifth Amendment does not seem to support that the “atom of sovereignty” can be split so as to place a person twice in jeopardy for the same offense.
This is not a change of law, the courts have long upheld the state/federal exception to the bar against double jeopardy. However, for those that have long thought the state of the law did not reflect the intent of the Constitution, this opinion represents a missed opportunity to close this loophole and protect this right of the people.
It’s quite clear that you do not have an obligation to answer an officer’s questions, especially if it could tend to incriminate you. But what happens when they use force when you don’t? The answer is not clear, but this article from the Volokh Conspiracy blog takes a great in-depth look at the different rights bestowed by the fifth amendment:
Amanda Knox, the American student charged with her roommate’s murder while studying abroad in Italy a few years ago, may be nearing the end of her saga. She was initially convicted of the murder of Meredith Kerchner, along with her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito. Separately, a man named Rudy Guede was also convicted of the murder. Prosecutors insist that Knox and Sollecito were involved. The trial was an international media sensation, due in part to Ms. Knox’s attractiveness. The British tabloids dubbed her Foxy Knoxy, and she was condemned in the Italian press even before her trial.
The Italian courts held an appeal, and the convictions against Knox and Sollecito were both thrown out due to lack of evidence. They had already spent four years in prison on the case, and the prosecutors vowed to appeal. That appeal was argued before the Supreme Court, and the Court has announced they will issue their decision tomorrow. If Knox wins, she can finally put this ordeal behind her. If prosecutors are successful, the case will be returned to a lower court, and she could be forced to stand trial again.
Such a retrial would not be permissible under U.S. law, as our Constitution prohibits trying someone twice for the same offense. As such, if it were sent back, the United States may refuse extradition based on our own legal principles. It is too early to speculate and further than that, pending the decision to be issued tomorrow by the Italian court.