Can You Be Prosecuted in State & Federal Court for Same Crime?
Say you decide to smuggle drugs across state lines. You’re caught in the process.
Can the State of Texas and federal government both put you on their own trial and give you separate sentences?
Doesn’t seem fair at first does it? After all, you only committed one crime. So why should you have to pay for it twice?
How Double Jeopardy Works
You’re probably familiar with the idea that you can’t be charged twice for the same crime. The law actually originally comes from ancient Greece. And today, our Fifth Amendment protects you from being repeatedly prosecuted for the same crime.
However, when multiple jurisdictions get involved, double jeopardy no longer protects you. Instead, you are viewed as having committed separate offenses. “Dual sovereignty” gives both state and federal government the power to prosecute you for the same crime.
So let’s go back to the example of you smuggling drugs across state lines. Technically, you could be prosecuted in all states whose laws you violated, and also by the federal government because you crossed state lines. However, a state prosecutor may choose to cede (“give up”) their jurisdiction when multiple states are involved.
But you could still face charges by both the federal and at least one state government. As recently as last year a Federal appeals court has ruled on this issue.
Case Example: Roberto Miramontes Roman
Roman, a Mexican citizen, was charged with the murder of Josie Greathouse Fox by the State of Utah in 2012. He initially confessed to the charges, but later recanted.
Fox was following Roman and another man for hours on suspicion of drug trafficking. After Fox pulled them over, she was shot by either Roman or his accomplice immediately after exiting her vehicle.
The Utah jury found enough reasonable doubt to acquit Roman of the murder charges.
However, since federal law enforcement was attempting to arrest Roman for felony drug violates, they also claimed jurisdiction. Roman’s defense attorney argued the dual sovereignty exception should be eliminated. The US attorney prosecuting the case said the federal prosecution does not amount to double jeopardy.
Ultimately, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in June of 2015 that Roman’s charges do not amount to double jeopardy. And therefore, the charges will stand and proceed. The US attorney then added on charges of killing a law enforcement officer while fleeing apprehension.
Accused of a State and Federal Crime? You Might Do Double Time
Whether you think being charged twice for the same crime by different authorities is fair or not, it’s the way law works in the United States now.
If you face charges for both a state and federal crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney with a proven track record of success on your side.