Ever since Patrick Baker was indicted on federal charges earlier this year, the question of double jeopardy has hung over the case. Why was the federal government able to go after Baker after he was pardoned on state charges for the killing of Donald Mills?
The fifth amendment to the United States Constitution states in part, “no person shall…be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” One of Bakers attorneys, Patrick Renn, attempted to make the argument that Baker could not be tried under this statute. The defense argued that Baker had already been acquitted of murder during the state trial when he was convicted of the lesser offense of reckless homicide.
The court agreed with federal prosecutors that Baker could be retired due to the “dual (separate) sovereignty doctrine.” According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, under this doctrine, “the prohibition on double jeopardy does not prevent dual prosecution when the prosecutions are each by separate sovereigns.” In this case, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States of America are separate sovereignties.
In a seven to three ruling in June, 2019 the United States Supreme Court affirmed the dual sovereignty doctrine. Conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s majority opinion that the doctrine’s exception to double jeopardy “is not an exception at all.” Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Neil Gorsuch dissented to the opinion. The case involved a man named Terance Gamble who was convicted separately in Alabama and federal court for unlawfully possessing a firearm; the courts verdict meant both convictions stand and that Gamble will spend an extra three years in prison.
While the Supreme Court ruling meant prosecutors were free to try Baker on the same charges, they also opted to pursue a different charge. Baker was originally convicted of reckless homicide but federal prosecutors indicted Baker for murder committed during a drug trafficking offence. Following Baker’s conviction, acting U.S. Attorney Carlton Shier said “at its core, this case was about one thing; Patrick Baker’s role in the death of Donald Mills.”
Baker is due to be sentenced on December 21 and could face life in prison. Baker attorney Steven Romines has pledged to appeal, telling the Courier-Journal “we felt there was evidence that should have been admitted that was not.”