The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains the “double jeopardy” clause, which protects defendants from being charged twice for the same crime. This is meant to be a limit on the power of prosecutors, as it prevents them from continually re-trying a defendant until they get the result they want. However, there is an important exception to the prohibition on double jeopardy.
Under an ancient doctrine known as “dual sovereignty,” state governments can separately charge a person in cases involving the same alleged crime. For instance, a person who is charged, tried and found not guilty in a Texas court case involving in an alleged auto theft ring could conceivably be charged in another state over the same alleged crime, if the purported ring operated across state lines.
Similarly, a defendant can, in some cases, face charges in both state and federal courts involving the same alleged crime. For instance, most theft offenses fall under state law, but some can fall under federal law as well, depending upon the circumstances, the value of the property involved, the type of the property involved. In some cases, the defendant’s job may make the difference between a state theft charge and a federal theft charge. For instance, a cashier who allegedly pocketed a small amount of money from the till at the end of a shift may face only state charges, but a bank teller who does the same may face federal charges.
Criminal defense is always tricky, but when there are both state and federal charges involved, or when the defendant faces charges in multiple state, it’s extremely important for the accused to seek out help from an experienced lawyer. Everyone accused of a crime deserves a defense, and those who face complex criminal charges need help from lawyers who have the skills, knowledge and experience to help.