An important courtroom victory for liberty and federalism is stirring confusion, with some pundits reaching very mistaken conclusions. Critics are bemoaning the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the dual-sovereignty doctrine in Gamble v. United States. For example, Slate complained that “Gamble empowers state and federal prosecutors to continue to collude in hopes of obtaining a maximum punishment” and thus “is a blow to individual liberty.”

Because of a prior robbery conviction, Terance Martez Gamble was prohibited from possessing a firearm under Alabama and U.S. law. Nonetheless, Mobile police officers found Gamble with a loaded handgun, a digital scale and marijuana. Gamble pled guilty in state court to possessing the weapon, and the judge sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment, suspended to one year of actual jail time.

Federal authorities did not believe that the 12-month sentence was reasonable because Gamble’s criminal history contained multiple incidents of violence in the community. The Feds indicted Gamble under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), which prohibits a convicted felon from possessing a firearm. Gamble again pled guilty, and a federal judge sentenced him to 46 months’ imprisonment, concurrent with the state sentence.

Gamble appealed and argued that the federal prosecution violated the principle of double jeopardy. Under the Fifth Amendment’s double-jeopardy clause, no person shall “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court rejected Gamble’s argument and upheld long-standing precedent that the clause does not prohibit successive prosecutions by separate sovereigns for offenses arising out of the same scenario.