There is often quite a bit of overlap between California state law and federal law when it comes to prosecuting crimes. If you're charged with a crime, chances are you'll be tried either by the state or by the federal government—most defendants will face one or the other, but not both. However, in certain cases, both the state and the federal government might charge you with a crime—and when this happens, it can make your defense much more complicated because you're effectively dealing with two trials at once. What can you do to make sure you have the best advantage in both venues? Let's talk about the dynamics behind facing California state and federal charges simultaneously.
Multiple Charges, Different Venues
In most cases, state and federal prosecutors won't charge you for the exact same crime. As a rule of thumb, the federal government defers to the state to prosecute its own crimes except when the alleged activity crosses state lines. Then it becomes an interstate issue and falls under federal jurisdiction. That being said, there are times when one alleged action violates several laws—some on the state level and some on the federal level. If you're facing both state and criminal charges, it's likely because state and federal prosecutors are pursuing distinct charges unique to each venue. Defending against an array of these charges can be challenging because you're defending yourself on multiple fronts—in venues that each have different rules and procedures.
Double Jeopardy versus Dual Sovereignty
On rare occasions, both California and federal prosecutors might see fit to charge you for the same crime—both at the state and federal level. Is this a violation of “double jeopardy” protections under the Constitution? Not exactly. Let's explain.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains the famed “Double Jeopardy Clause,” a vital protection that ensures people can't be tried twice for the same crime. This law is intended to stop prosecutors from trying you a second time after you've been acquitted; it does not, however, prevent overlapping trials by the state and federal governments over the same alleged offense. We live under both a state and a federal government system, which means the principle of “dual sovereignty” applies. In other words, since each government system is charging you separately, it's not considered double jeopardy even if the charges stem from the same alleged crime. In most cases, the federal government won't charge you if the state charges you, and vice versa—but if both governments see fit to press charges, it's technically legal.
Getting Legal Help when Facing Simultaneous State and Federal Charges
Whether you're facing multiple charges at the California state and federal levels, or whether you face federal and state charges for the same crime, it can be very difficult to mount a successful defense for both. Federal and state courts operate under slightly different rules, and not every attorney is experienced in both types of venues. You could hire attorneys separately—one for the state and one for the federal—but this can get quite costly, and your attorneys may not communicate effectively with each other. A better option is to look for an attorney who is equally experienced with both federal and California state criminal trials—someone who understands both systems and can coordinate the details of each venue more effectively.
The attorneys at the Sigal Law Group are well versed in both California and federal criminal defense. If you're facing criminal charges at both state and federal levels, we have the experience and track record to give you the best advantage in both courtrooms. Call us today at (818) 325-0570 for a free consultation.