Double jeopardy: How does it affect state v. federal charges?

On Behalf of | Jul 19, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

You may be aware of the Constitutional protection against double jeopardy. Essentially, it is against the law for someone to be tried and convicted twice for one crime.

However, double jeopardy does not necessarily prevent someone from facing charges or convictions for one crime at both state and federal levels. We briefly discussed this matter in a previous post, but we will take a closer look at the risk.

First: What is “dual sovereignty?”

To understand why double jeopardy rules do not prevent charges at both state and federal levels, you must understand dual sovereignty. Essentially, this rule is an exception to double jeopardy. It establishes that the state governments and the federal government are separate entities with separate laws. This separation allows both to try and convict individuals for violating the law – even if it was the same offense.

That is why the warning still stands: certain incidents could result in individuals facing both state and federal charges.

What does this mean for individuals facing charges?

This exception to double jeopardy remains intact today, despite many challenges in court over the years. However, there are two essential things to note regarding the risk of facing a conviction at both state and federal levels:

  • This situation is rare: While there are certain crimes that can lead to both state and federal charges, one entity frequently handles both. For example, wire fraud violates both North Carolina and federal laws, but in many cases, federal law enforcement and courts will handle the whole case because the act violated the larger laws of the land.
  • Though compounded sentences are possible: Even though it is not common, it is still possible for an individual to face a conviction and penalties at both levels. This is often the case with serious, severe crimes. Consider the story of George Floyd’s murder that caught nationwide attention. The officer charged with killing him and violating his civil rights did indeed face both state and federal charges, convictions and penalties. However, the officer is serving both state and federal prison sentences at the same time.

Regardless, it is still essential to be aware of this risk. Facing both state and federal charges is a serious issue that could affect your whole life. You must ensure you understand the risk and defend your rights appropriately.