Minnesota Lawyer Blogs
The Death of Double Jeopardy
Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, â€śNo person shallâ€¦ be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limbâ€¦.â€ťThis is known as the â€śdouble jeopardyâ€ť clause. What the clause essentially says is that a criminal defendant cannot be tried twice for the same crime.
Until 1969 â€“ unless state law contained a similar prohibition â€“ the double jeopardy clause applied only to federal criminal defendants. However, in Benton v. Maryland, the United States Supreme Court held that the liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the Constitution) apply equally to both state and federal governments. So, for the last half century, criminal defendants have been protected from double jeopardy at both the state and federal levels.
But this still does not prevent them from being tried twice for the same alleged crime.
Double jeopardy only protects a criminal defendant from being prosecuted more than once for the same crime by the same government. It does not, however, protect a defendant from being tried for the same crime by two different governments, for example two states. This is known as the â€śdual sovereigntyâ€ť doctrine.
In the history of the United States, there have been many examples of the dual sovereignty doctrine at work. In Heath v. Alabama, for example, the defendant had his wife kidnaped in Alabama, but her remains were discovered in Georgia. In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the defendantâ€™s prosecution by both states.
Where things get murkier, though, is when state and federal law overlap. For example, Minnesota has laws against the selling of illegal drugs and downloading child pornography â€“ and so does the federal government. Sovereigns often work things out among themselves. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice has a policy of not prosecuting a crime when a state has already done so; and states will sometimes defer to the feds on certain cases.
But there is nothing to prevent a defendant who was charged with distribution of narcotics by the federal government from being charged for the same crime by the state of Minnesota. Thus, a defendant could serve his time in a federal facility and then be remanded to state custody to serve his state sentence â€“ all for the same crime committed in the same state.
When someone has been charged with a crime â€“ or faces the possibility of being charged â€“ by more than one jurisdiction, consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney should be the first course of action.