WASHINGTON — In a decision that could affect associates of President Trump accused of wrongdoing and hoping for pardons, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that criminal defendants may be prosecuted for the same offenses in both federal and state court. Since Mr. Trump’s pardon power extends only to federal crimes, the ruling leaves people he pardons subject to state prosecutions.
The vote was 7 to 2, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Neil M. Gorsuch each filing dissents.
The Constitution’s double jeopardy clause generally forbids subsequent prosecutions. But the Supreme Court has made one exception. Saying that the federal government and the states are independent sovereigns, the court has allowed separate prosecutions of the same conduct in state and federal courts.
The case before the court concerned an Alabama man, Terance Gamble, who was prosecuted by state authorities for possessing a gun after having been convicted of a felony. He was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.
As the state case moved forward, federal prosecutors charged Mr. Gamble with the same conduct. This time, he was sentenced to 46 months, with the two prison terms to run concurrently.
Mr. Gamble argued that this violated the double jeopardy clause, but lower courts said the dual prosecutions were permissible under Supreme Court precedent.
There had been signs that at least some justices were uneasy with that line of cases. In 2016, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, called for a fresh look at whether the exception makes sense. “The matter warrants attention in a future case in which a defendant faces successive prosecutions by parts of the whole U.S.A.,” she wrote.
As that alliance suggested, the issue did not divide the justices across the usual ideological lines. But Justice Thomas reversed course on Monday, writing that “the historical record does not bear out my initial skepticism of the dual-sovereignty doctrine.”