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Can You Be Prosecuted by the State and Federal Governments for the Same Crime?


State and federal governments each have laws concerning prohibited conduct. Generally, when a crime happens within a state's borders, that state's government has jurisdiction. And if it violates a federal statute or occurs on federal land, the federal government has jurisdiction. Yet, some cases exist where state and federal laws intersect. If a person violates one of these, are they protected under the Double Jeopardy Clause? Or can they be tried for the same crime by the state and federal governments?

In short, the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits multiple prosecutions or convictions by the same sovereign. Because state and federal governments are separate sovereigns, each has the authority to pursue charges against the individual.

Whether you are facing state or federal charges– or both – our Bergen County team at Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLCcan provide effective legal counsel. Schedule a consultation with us by calling (201) 574-7919 or submitting an online contact formtoday.

Jurisdiction in a Criminal Case

Jurisdiction refers to the legal authority of a court to hear and decide cases. In the United States, jurisdiction is generally divided between federal and state courts. Federal jurisdiction is granted to cases involving matters occurring on federal land, crossing state or country borders, or happening against a federal employee.

State jurisdiction encompasses most criminal cases. Generally, it is granted when the alleged offense happens within the state. The state's criminal justice system may also be set up to allow certain courts to handle crimes occurring in specific locations, such as a particular county.

Still, not all criminal cases simply fall into either state or federal jurisdiction. Some may involve conduct prohibited by both state and federal statutes. Do both governments then have the authority to prosecute the alleged offender? Isn't that barred under the Double Jeopardy Clause?

Let's first discuss the Double Jeopardy Clause and then explain why it doesn't apply to cases falling under state and federal jurisdiction.

The Double Jeopardy Clause

The Double Jeopardy Clause is a provision of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It provides that no person can "be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." In other words, if an individual has already been acquitted or convicted of a particular crime, they cannot be tried again for that same offense.

The clause applies to both federal and state governments. It is an important constitutional protection that helps to ensure that people can't be unfairly and arbitrarily prosecuted by the government, safeguarding against multiple prosecutions and punishments for the same offense.

State and Federal Governments Are Separate Sovereigns

The Double Jeopardy Clause applies only if prosecution for the same offense is by the same sovereign. Thus, New Jersey cannot try or convict a person twice for the same crime, and the same goes for the federal government.

However, if an individual commits a crime that violates state and federal laws, both governments have jurisdiction, and each can pursue legal action.

Take kidnapping, for example. New Jersey prohibits taking or confining a person for ransom. The federal government bans similar conduct, provided that it affects interstate or foreign commerce. If someone kidnaps another person in New Jersey and transports them to Pennsylvania, that individual could be charged under N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1 and 18 U.S.C. § 1201.

The person can be prosecuted and convicted by the state and federal governments because the offense violated both laws. The individual is not protected under Double Jeopardy because state and federal governments are considered separate sovereigns. Therefore, multiple prosecutions and convictions do not violate constitutional protections.

Get Started on Your Defense

State and federal prosecutions can be overwhelming and complicated. Regardless of which government has jurisdiction, it's crucial to have a criminal defense attorney representing you. They can provide the advice and guidance you need to confidently navigate your case and pursue a favorable result.

To speak with our Bergen County lawyer, please contact Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC at (201) 574-7919.

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