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If a Crime Happens in More Than One State, Can Each State Prosecute?

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Criminal offenses that happen in more than one state could result in the accused finding themselves in more than one courtroom. That’s because each state has the right to prosecute someone where a crime is committed. Furthermore, if the crime is such a serious offense that it rises to federal charges, someone could be tried in a federal court too.

Additionally, just because a crime is committed in two states does not mean prosecutors in both states will choose to pursue charges. After a conviction in one state, a prosecutor in another state may decide that the punishment is sufficient and choose not to seek additional charges. An example of this is when someone is given a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole — it could be seen as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Double Jeopardy

Double jeopardy only comes into play if a person is charged for the same crime twice in the same jurisdiction. That means if a crime is committed in one state, and then the crime continues into another state, each state (or jurisdiction) has the opportunity to prosecute an individual for the offense without it being a case of double jeopardy.

Double jeopardy can be dated back to ancient Greece but is also guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. While it wasn’t the first case to address the dual sovereignty doctrine, in 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Heath v. Alabama clarified the law. The case involved two men who were hired by the defendant to kidnap and kill the defendant’s wife. The men committed the crime in Alabama but the woman’s body was found in Georgia. Those men were given life sentences.

The defendant, on the other hand, agreed to a deal in Georgia where he pleaded guilty for the death of his wife in exchange for a life sentence. However, Alabama prosecutors decided also to file charges for the murder connected to the kidnapping, and the defendant was sentenced to death.

Prior to his death, the defendant had argued that he was being charged with double jeopardy. The case went to the Supreme Court where it was ruled that under the dual sovereignty principle, two states can separately pursue charges against someone for the same crime without violating the Fifth Amendment.

Multiple Charges in Different States

It can be difficult for prosecutors to pursue charges in both states as it can be a long process. Prosecutors in both states will have to remain abreast with the proceedings of each pending case to see if one state’s case will affect the other. As previously stated too, this can not only be time-consuming but costly if a prosecutor’s office chooses to file charges in their state additionally.

Additionally, depending on the specific charges an individual could be facing in each state, some evidence may be applicable for one case but not the other. This is the same for witnesses as well.

Conflicts with Sentencing

Sentencing conflicts could also arise if someone is facing similar charges in two states. In the Supreme Court case mentioned above, the defendant was later executed by the state of Alabama in 1992, although he first received a life sentence in Georgia. Because Georgia sentenced the defendant first, they had primary jurisdiction and sentencing priority. However, state officials ceded to Alabama so that the state’s sentence could be carried out.

If an individual is sentenced for the same crime in different jurisdictions, the punishments can either be carried out concurrently or consecutively at the discretion of the courts.

When to Contact The Abt Law Firm, LLC

If you are facing charges in two different states, you need a defense attorney who not only knows the laws of multiple states but what rights are available to you. Don’t get stuck facing more serious charges because you don’t have the right person fighting for you — contact the team at The Abt Law Firm, LLC and get started with a free consultation.