Double Jeopardy? Not So Fast … State and Federal Charges From One Incident
We’ve all had neighbors we didn’t get along with. But in Ted’s case — not his real name — a disagreement with a neighbor led to some very “interesting” legal problems. Ted’s neighbor thought they smelled cannabis coming from Ted’s apartment, so the neighbor called 911 and reported it. Sure enough, when the cop “gained entry,” they found large amounts of marijuana. They also found some credit cards, card readers, and what looked like blank cards as well. That was when they called in the federal government. Ted didn’t know, but some of the information belonged to people from other states, affecting interstate commerce. And that makes it a federal issue. Pretty soon, Ted was facing state and federal charges for the same “house call” the local police had made to his apartment. Credit card fraud isn’t the only way for the federal government to get involved. Most financial crime — including bank fraud, wire fraud, and Medicare (but not Medicaid) fraud — can result in federal charges you don’t expect. The same is true if you cross a state border during a crime. So, what happens when you get two sets of charges from one incident? Well, there are a few ways it can go down. It’s relatively common for the state to drop its case once the federal government’s own case picks up steam. The federal prosecutors have more money, authority, and time than the state does, which means a conviction is more likely. If you are convicted, the
federal penalties are usually plenty harsh. Most state prosecutors will be happy with that and are fine with dropping their case, as long as the feds are working on their own. Some prosecutors won’t be, though, and they may run their own case out as long as possible while they see how seriously the federal prosecutors are taking the case. Less common, but still possible, is for the state to continue to prosecute you even while the federal government is doing the same. This usually means that each set of prosecutors is focused on substantially different charges, and neither are willing to let the other take over. The feds get the first crack — because that’s how this works — but after they’re done, the state gets its own turn. If you’re convicted in both courts, you just have to hope that they let you serve your sentences concurrently, instead of finishing your federal sentence only to start serving your debt to the state immediately. As you can see, this can turn complicated quick. It’s really important that you secure a good defense attorney any time you face criminal charges, but if the federal government is getting involved, you’re in real hot water.A good attorney may mean the difference between facing charges at both the state and federal level and finding yourself in state court with reduced charges.
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