Can Someone Face State and Federal Charges For the Same Crime?

While many people may be familiar with the term “double jeopardy,” a right guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment that prevents someone from being prosecuted twice for the same crime, this principle is actually a bit more complex. If you were tried and acquitted of murder in New York state, the concept of double jeopardy bars the state from prosecuting you for this same criminal incident in the future. However, you could face prosecution in a federal court for this same crime. Under the concept of “dual sovereignty,” state and federal governments may separately prosecute you for the same crime if the criminal act in question violates state and federal laws. Let’s take a closer look at the concept of dual sovereignty and what steps to take if you are facing state and federal charges.

State vs. Federal Offenses

Most criminal offenses are handled either by the state or federal court, depending on the nature and circumstances of the alleged crime. For example, a kidnapping case could be handled by the state court, but if the defendant is accused of traveling with the victim across state or international lines, the case will likely be tried in federal court. Sometimes, however, a defendant may face charges at the state and federal levels for the same offense. If a murder is committed in New York state, but the victim was a foreign dignitary or federal agent, the concept of dual sovereignty may apply. 

Different Entities, Same Offense

Over the years, there have been several cases that challenged the constitutionality of dual sovereignty. However, as recently as 2019, the Supreme Court stated that “where there are two sovereigns, there are two laws, and two ‘offenses,’” and continued to uphold the doctrine. While the most common examples of two sovereign entities are the state and federal governments, the dual sovereignty concept has also applied to charges tried by the federal and Indian tribal courts. It is possible to be tried, convicted, and face distinct punishments at two separate levels. However, when a guilty verdict by one court leads to life imprisonment, the other jurisdiction may drop their case, as the punishment will likely be the same. 

Protecting Your Future

Facing criminal charges of any kind can be intimidating and overwhelming. When the alleged criminal offense may involve charges at both the state and federal levels, the potential consequences can be severe and even life-altering. As soon as you have been arrested for a criminal offense, contact a skilled criminal defense attorney who can get to work defending your rights and your freedom.


If you or your loved one is currently facing criminal charges at the state or federal level, contact the Law Office of Adrienne D. Edward, P.C. today at (347) 997-3811 to speak to a dedicated and knowledgeable Queens criminal defense lawyer.