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Double jeopardy and state and federal prosecution

On Behalf of | Oct 8, 2021 | Felony Offenses |

The concept of double jeopardy was a central concern for the Founders when the Constitution was being written. They simply held that no American should be tried twice for the same crime. That is apparently no longer the standard in the view of the U.S. Supreme Court that has ruled in favor of the acceptance of the formerly unacceptable practice. It seems that politician prosecutors at both the state and federal level can now put another notch in their conviction belt by trying one defendant at both the state and federal levels, including in the state of Florida.

The sovereignty technicality

The reasoning that was provided by the SCOTUS justices who voted in a 7-2 decision in 2017 was that state and federal governments are independent “sovereign” jurisdictional governments as opposed to the concept that federal governments are sovereign over state governments. All of a sudden the idea of sovereignty shifts from national and state power structure application to individual sovereignty over all people in every state at every level of government. There is potentially much more at stake in this power grab than double prosecution.

The problem for the accused

There are many laws that are included as both federal and state offenses. Anything that occurs across state lines could be determined as a federal violation, but it can now be a state violation in both jurisdictional states as well with this ruling. Illegal trafficking is a prime example. Many trafficking operations of any type involve interstate flight, which means that those charges could not only be charged by the state in which the crime originated, but also by the state where they went and by the federal government as well. This new twist in criminal law authority means that the double jeopardy exemption is now in jeopardy itself.

The real issue with this new view of sovereignty by the high court is that defendants can now be sentenced multiple times at different levels of government. Additionally, because of the separate systems, jail sentencing will be applied consecutively. This condition will inevitably result in much more incarceration time for those defendants who are convicted on multiple government levels.