Maryland and the US government each have their own criminal statutes, their own rules of criminal procedure, and their own sentencing guidelines. Most crimes are violations of Maryland law or federal law but not both jurisdictions. For example, crimes on federal lands are usually prosecuted in federal courts while crimes on state property are prosecuted in state courts.

There are exceptions to that rule, though. Some defendants are charged with both a federal crime and a state crime for essentially the same wrong. Examples can include kidnapping, multi-state theft crimes, and drug trafficking.

In these cases involving multiple jurisdictions, the question arises whether the defendant who is found guilty or acquitted in one jurisdiction can be tried in the other jurisdiction for the same acts. In general, the answer is that the defendant can be tried in another jurisdiction. It doesn’t matter if the state case is tried first or the federal case is tried first.

Why you can be tried for the “same” crimes twice without violating double jeopardy laws

The protection against double jeopardy is set forth in the Sixth Amendment of the US. It provides, in relevant part, that no person “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”

As a general rule:

  • If a defendant is acquitted in federal court, he/she can’t be tried for the same crime in federal court.
  • If a defendant is convicted in federal court, he/she can’t be tried for the same crime again in federal court.
  • If a defendant is acquitted in state court, he/she can’t be tried for the same crime in state court.
  • If a defendant is convicted in state court, he/she can’t be tried for the same crime in state court.

In these cases, it doesn’t matter that the government found or acquired new evidence that the defendant was responsible of the alleged acts, after an acquittal of that defendant.

In all criminal cases, federal and state, the prohibition against double jeopardy only applies to criminal cases. As the OJ Simpson case made clear, a defendant who is acquitted in a criminal case can be made a defendant in a civil case for the same wrong.

There are often questions about when jeopardy attaches. Normally, a judge or jury must render a verdict for double jeopardy to apply.

Double jeopardy with different sovereigns

Federal criminal cases and state criminal cases involve different sovereigns – different governments. Double jeopardy does not apply to different sovereigns. This means that:

  • A state conviction or acquittal does not bar the trial of a federal criminal complaint
  • A federal conviction or acquittal does not bar the trial of a Maryland criminal complaint

Based on the US Supreme Court case of Gamble v US (139 S. Ct. 1960 (2019), this separate sovereign principle was reaffirmed. In Gamble, a defendant had pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in state court. The Supreme Court ruled that the man could also be tried in federal court for the same illegal firearm possession under a similar federal statute. The rational is that even though the acts are the same, the laws/statutes are different.

Just because prosecutors can bring charges in both state and federal courts, doesn’t mean they are going to do so. Most times, these cases are considered if a defendant is acquitted in one court, but the other jurisdiction believes he/she is guilty. It is less common when there is a conviction or a plea of guilty in one jurisdiction.

The issue of double jeopardy across jurisdictions is also relevant due to the issue of pardons. If, for example, the President pardons someone of a federal crime, the person could still be charged with a state crime. Presidents generally can only enter pardons for federal offenses, not state offenses.

At Carey Law Office, we fight to have every criminal charge, at the state or federal level, dismissed. We work aggressively to bar evidence if it violates your Constitutional rights, including a violation of your double jeopardy protections. We are often able to negotiate fair plea bargain agreements. We represent defendants in both state and federal courts. For help with any criminal complaint, call us at 301-464-2500 or fill out our contact form to make an appointment. We represent the accused throughout Maryland. Our offices are located in Bowie and Crofton.