This blog seeks to explain two basic concepts in criminal law which tends to confuse most- double jeopardy, and dual sovereignty. What does it all mean, and what are the ramifications if you are charged with a crime in one state instead of two?
Double jeopardy is a constitutional principle that comes from the Double jeopardy clause in the 5th Amendment of the U.S. constitution. It means that you may not be charged or prosecuted for the same crime, twice. For example, if you were charged with the murder of Mr. Smith, went to trial, and was found innocent, you may not later be charged again with the murder of Mr. Smith if new evidence surfaces against you for the crime. You may be charged for other crimes, such as robbing and assaulting Mr. Smith, or conspiring to kill Mr. Smith, but not murdering Mr. Smith.
The Exception: Dual Sovereignty
In the Supreme Court case of Heath v. Alabama (1985), two men were hired by the defendant to murder and kidnap his wife. She was kidnapped in Alabama, but her body was later found in Georgia. The Defendant was convicted of murder and plead guilty in Georgia, but was sentenced to death in Alabama. In other words, he was first sentenced to prison in Georgia, but later put to death in Alabama. The Supreme Court held that the Defendant's constitutional rights had not been violated, and there was no double-jeopardy violation because he violated the laws of both Alabama and Georgia, thereby rendering two distinct crimes.
This is the exception to the double jeopardy doctrine. While you cannot be charged twice in one state for a crime that you were acquitted or convicted of, you may be charged twice in different states for the same crime. This means that if a single act violates the law of two or more states, your conduct may be treated as two or more separate criminal acts. It would not be considered in conflict with the double jeopardy clause. This is known as the "dual sovereignty doctrine." Furthermore, if that conduct was a federal offense, you may be tried and convicted in both a state and federal court. Typically, it is up to the discretion of the prosecutors.
Sentences from different jurisdictions for the same crime may run either concurrently or consecutively in accordance with federal law at the discretion of the courts. See 18 U.S.C. §3584. As illustrated by Heath v. Alabama, the state of Georgia, which was the 1st state to take physical custody of the Defendant was granted primary jurisdiction and sentencing priority. A state may cede its primary jurisdiction to the second state.
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