U.S. Supreme Court justices on Thursday expressed skepticism about putting limits on criminal charges being brought against people for the same offenses by both federal and state prosecutors in a case involving an Alabama man charged with illegally possessing a gun.
Depending on how the court rules, the case that could have implications for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
The court appeared divided on non-ideological lines, but a majority seemed concerned about the practical implications of overturning longstanding precedent allowing for parallel state and federal prosecutions.
Some of the justices, including conservative Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch and liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appeared more worried about vindicating the individual rights of defendants.
Trump’s other appointee to the nine-justice court, conservative Brett Kavanaugh, questioned whether there were strong enough arguments to justify ending the practice, saying that the lawyers for defendant Terance Gamble would have to show the precedent is “grievously wrong.”
“Given the uncertainty over the history, can you clear that bar?” he asked Gamble’s lawyer, Louis Chaiten.
The appeal brought by Gamble has no direct impact on the Mueller investigation but depending on how the court rules it could limit the ability of states to bring charges against anyone charged by Mueller who Trump might pardon.
Gamble, 29, was prosecuted in Alabama for possessing marijuana and for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm after the vehicle he was driving in Mobile was stopped by police in 2015.
While those charges were pending, the federal government charged Gamble under a U.S. law that criminalizes the possession of a firearm by a felon.
Gamble challenged the federal prosecution, saying it violated his rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to be free of “double jeopardy,” which is the legal principle that people cannot be charged twice for the same offense. A ruling is due by the end of June.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Tom Brown