This Supreme Court Case Could Impact The Mueller Probe And Boost Trump's Pardon A case of a man tried twice for the same gun charge by the federal government and by the state of Alabama could have ramifications for the Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.
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This Supreme Court Case Could Impact The Mueller Probe And Boost Trump's Pardon Power

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This Supreme Court Case Could Impact The Mueller Probe And Boost Trump's Pardon Power

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This Supreme Court Case Could Impact The Mueller Probe And Boost Trump's Pardon Power

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's hear about a legal case now that could sort of unexpectedly influence the special counsel's investigation. Today a convict from Alabama is challenging a longstanding Supreme Court precedent that allows the state and federal governments to separately prosecute an individual for the same crime. This case has attracted unusual attention because of its potential effects on the investigation that's being led by Robert Mueller. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The double jeopardy clause of the Constitution bars prosecuting any person twice for the same offense. But for 160 years, the Supreme Court has said that the rule barring double prosecution does not apply to separate sovereign governments because they each have separate interests. Therefore, the state and federal governments may bring separate prosecutions for the same crime. Most often, these dual sovereign prosecutions come in high-profile cases.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Verdicts in the Rodney King beating case. Four Los Angeles police officers found not guilty on all but...

TOTENBERG: The verdict in the brutal beating of a black man caught on video in Los Angeles sparked riots in 1992 and led to a second prosecution, this time brought by the federal government for violating King's civil rights.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The jury in the Rodney King civil rights trial this morning has returned guilty verdicts against two of the four Los Angeles police officers.

TOTENBERG: The case before the Supreme Court today is far more mundane than the Rodney King beating case. Seven years after Terance Gamble was convicted for robbery in Alabama, he was pulled over by police for a traffic violation. When the cops found a handgun and two bags of pot in the car, the state charged him with violating the state law barring convicted felons from possessing a firearm. He pleaded guilty to the state charges and was sentenced to serve one year in prison with the rest of his sentence suspended. But when he faced similar federal charges, three more years were added onto the sentence. Gamble appealed, contending the second conviction violated the Constitution's ban on double prosecution for the same crime. But the lower courts ruled against him, citing Supreme Court precedents that allow such successive prosecutions. Now the case is before the Supreme Court, where two justices at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Clarence Thomas, have strongly suggested it may be time to reverse the separate sovereigns doctrine. The case has attracted extra attention because of President Trump's open flirtation with pardoning his one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other Trump associates who've been convicted or are targets of special counsel Robert Mueller. The caveat to a presidential pardon, it should be noted, is that it only applies to federal crimes. So a state like New York, for example, could go after Manafort for the same crimes even if he is pardoned. That is the current state of the law. But if the Supreme Court were to bar such dual prosecutions, it would mean that a Trump pardon could be get-out-of-jail-free card for Manafort and others. George Washington University Law professor Stephen Saltzburg served as a top Justice Department official in the Reagan and Bush administrations.

STEPHEN SALTZBURG: There is a concern that a president of the United States could pardon an individual for all federal offenses, and if the Supreme Court says that states can't prosecute those offenses, it effectively is a pardon for everything.

DANIEL RICHMAN: But the thing about somebody like Manafort is he's sort of a one-man offense generator.

TOTENBERG: That's Columbia Law School professor and former federal prosecutor Daniel Richman, who notes that complex criminal activity always leaves more to be investigated and more to be prosecuted. In short, just because a person is convicted of federal tax fraud or money laundering doesn't mean he's protected from state prosecution.

RICHMAN: Manafort would have vanishing little protection against charges that the Manhattan DA or the New York attorney general could bring based on money laundering in New York or real estate fraud.

TOTENBERG: After all, each money laundering transaction, each false statement on a state form, is a separate criminal act. Terance Gamble, the defendant at the center of today's Supreme Court case, is the relatively rare dual-sovereign defendant who is not involved in other major criminal activity. Indeed, he was prosecuted on federal charges because the U.S. attorney in Alabama and the Obama administration were flagging felons with a history of domestic violence and violent gun use, and Gamble had a history of terrorizing his domestic partners with a gun. The consequences of ruling for Gamble, a move the justices appear to be seriously contemplating, is not lost on the court. The justices have allotted extra time for today's argument.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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