Volume 97, Number 2

May 2022

The Limits of Dual Sovereignty

Eleuthera Overton Sa

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment provides that no person shall “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Yet the dual sovereignty doctrine, a longstanding rule of judicial interpretation, reads the Double Jeopardy Clause as applying only to prosecutions by a single sovereign. Successive prosecutions by separate sovereigns, including the United States and foreign nations, do not implicate double jeopardy. The Double Jeopardy Clause protects the individual from government overreach, but the dual sovereignty doctrine flips the script: It protects the interests of the sovereign at the expense of the individual. After many decades of criticism, the Supreme Court reconsidered and then reaffirmed the doctrine in Gamble v. United States. The current blanket rule solves one problem—the fear that sovereign interests will be thwarted by other sovereigns—but creates another: an incentive for two sovereigns to join up to evade constitutional requirements. In the shadow of the dual sovereignty rule, lower courts have articulated an exception where one sovereign manipulates another or uses it as a “sham” or a “cover” for its own aims. Without further guidance from the Supreme Court, however, courts are reluctant to find the exception to apply.

This Note offers a new approach to inter-sovereign successive prosecutions that would reconcile these two doctrinal threads and provide greater protection to defendants at the mercy of multiple sovereigns: application of the strict scrutiny standard. Courts should embrace the complexity of inter-sovereign prosecutions, which can range from situations of obstruction, where successive prosecution may be necessary, to manipulation, where it should be prohibited. Genuine protection of the right against double jeopardy demands strict scrutiny.