Florida Criminal Code 893.13(2)(a) says that

Except as authorized by this chapter and chapter 499, a person may not purchase, or possess with intent to purchase, a controlled substance.

and if I parsed the code right, it is a third degree felony to possess more than 20 grams of marijuana. In Washington state, it is legal to possess and purchase up to 28 grams of MJ. Suppose I purchase a legal amount in Washington, then travel to Florida (leaving my dope in Washington), but somehow Florida learns of my purchase in Washington. Is there case law (or any statute) whereby can't they prosecute me for committing an act that is illegal in Florida? It needn't be drugs.

I know (or ought to know) that they don't "have jurisdiction": I am specifically looking for case law that officially establishes that in order for a government to have authority to prosecute an offense, the act had to have been committed within the geographical territory controlled by that government. Is there official law that expressly says this, or is this just part of the common historical understanding of "jurisdiction"? This need not be US law only.

2 Answers 2


In the specific example you have given, Florida law could not be applied. A state has jurisdiction over a crime under constitutional due process limits on the scope of a state's criminal jurisdiction if the crime is either committed within the state (regardless of where the harm occurs) or is directed at or impacts the state (the classic example is a gunshot fired from the Ohio side of the state line killing someone located in Indiana, which could be prosecuted in either state, or in both states as it doesn't violate double jeopardy to be prosecuted for the same offense by more than one sovereign).

Sometimes these issues are framed not as "jurisdictional" per se, but as "conflict of law" questions limited by the constitution. The proof that a crime was committed in the territory where it is applicable is called proof of locus delecti and depends upon the nature of the crime alleged and the location of the act or acts constituting it. To determine where a crime is committed depends on what acts constitute the crime, something that leaves considerable room for flexible interpretation and a careful reading of the exact wording of the relevant criminal statute.

The most important limitation on the territorial jurisdiction of a U.S. state is the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This applies directly in the case of federal criminal prosecutions in the federal courts, and applies in state courts because it is incorporated to apply in state court cases through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States under 20th century case law applying the "Selective Incorporation doctrine."

The Sixth Amendment mandates that criminal trials be conducted “by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

If a suspect is not present in a state to be criminally prosecuted, then the options available to a state are (1) to toll the running of the statute of limitations while the suspect is outside the state to the extent permitted by the relevant state statute and the U.S. Constitution, (2) to bring a civil lawsuit against the suspect instead of a criminal prosecution, or (3) to seek extradition of the suspect, which must be granted under certain circumstances under the United State Constitution and reads as follows in the pertinent part:

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 2:

A person charged in any state with treason, felony, or other crime, who shall flee from justice, and be found in another state, shall on demand of the executive authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the state having jurisdiction of the crime.

(Note that the Sixth Amendment does not apply to civil lawsuits. Civil lawsuit trials can be conducted in a state other than the state where the breach of contract or tort giving rise to the lawsuit took place for jurisdictional purposes and not infrequently is brought in another state, although constitutional choice of law rules limit the circumstances under which a particular state's laws can be applied to a particular set of circumstances in a lawsuit.)

The Sixth Amendment, on its face, prohibits Florida from prosecuting a case in the example given in the question involving a crime that was committed solely in Washington State.

Of course, the exact definition of the crime might determine where it was committed. In traditional "common law" "blue collar" crimes there is usually no ambiguity over where it is committed except in the most extraordinary circumstances, but in prosecutions of conspiracies and crimes involving economic activity (such as owning or mailing something), the question of where a crime is committed can grow much fuzzier.

For example, one could imagine a differently defined crime prohibiting providing funds to finance a purchase of marijuana in excess of 20 grams being committed both in Washington State and Florida at the same time (e.g. perhaps a purchase of marijuana in Washington State was financed by a Florida bank by delivering cash to a courier in Florida who is bound for Washington State knowing that the cash would be used to finance a marijuana purchase).

Similar ideas apply in international circumstances where the Sixth Amendment and Extradition Clause do not apply. But, in those cases, the more flexible and less well defined "law of nations" as interpreted by Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court and the President still does impose some territorial boundaries on prosecutions for actions which are not crimes in the country where they are committed under that country's domestic laws. But, those boundaries are not so hard and fast and the idea that a crime is committed in places where it has an impact allow for considerable flexibility in prosecuting crimes committed outside the United States.

It has also been well settled since the earliest days of the United States that "The courts of no country execute the penal laws of another." The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 123 (U.S. Supreme Court 1825) and that this applies to states applying each other's penal laws as well. So, Florida cannot enforce a violation of the criminal laws of Washington State in its courts either. If you get in a bar fight in Seattle, you can't be prosecute for assault in a court in Orlando, even if both of the parties to the bar fight were Orlando residents and U.S. citizens.

Some notable cases resolving the question of whether locus delecti is present in a particular case include the following:

In Hyde v. United States, 225 U.S. 347 (1912) although none of the defendants had entered the District of Columbia as part of their conspiracy to defraud the United States, they were convicted because one co-conspirator had committed overt acts in Columbia (225 U.S., at 363). So conspiracy is a continuing offense committed in all the districts where a co-conspirator acts on the agreement.

Similarly, In re Palliser, 136 U.S. 257 (1890) the sending of letters from New York to postmasters in Connecticut in an attempt to gain postage on credit, made Connecticut, where the mail he addressed and dispatched was received, an appropriate venue (136 U.S., at 266—268).

A typical state statute on the subject from Colorado's Revised Statutes (2016) is as follows:

§ 18-1-201. State jurisdiction

(1) A person is subject to prosecution in this state for an offense which he commits, by his own conduct or that of another for which he is legally accountable, if: (a) The conduct constitutes an offense and is committed either wholly or partly within the state; or (b) The conduct outside the state constitutes an attempt, as defined by this code, to commit an offense within the state; or (c) The conduct outside the state constitutes a conspiracy to commit an offense within the state, and an act in furtherance of the conspiracy occurs in the state; or (d) The conduct within the state constitutes an attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit in another jurisdiction an offense prohibited under the laws of this state and such other jurisdiction. (2) An offense is committed partly within this state if conduct occurs in this state which is an element of an offense or if the result of conduct in this state is such an element. In homicide, the "result" is either the physical contact which causes death or the death itself; and if the body of a criminal homicide victim is found within the state, the death is presumed to have occurred within the state. (3) Whether an offender is in or outside of the state is immaterial to the commission of an offense based on an omission to perform a duty imposed by the law of this state.

Case law under this statute sometimes describes the issue presented under this statute a question of "sovereign jurisdiction." See, e.g., People v. Cullen, 695 P.2d 750 (Colo. App. 1984).


Courts have jurisdiction when they decide they have jurisdiction. The location of a crime is one of the factors a court will consider but just because a crime happens outside of its territory does not disqualify jurisdiction.

In general, they will make that decision based on either a specific law that grants them extraterritorial jurisdiction or if there is some connection to their home jurisdiction.

For your example, if you or your dealer are a resident of Florida, or the drugs were made in or transited through Florida, or money for the transaction came through a Florida based bank account, or etc. etc.: the court may decide that that triggers their jurisdiction. They would then hear arguments as to if you should be tried under Florida law (you lose) or Washington law (you win).

To consider a broader example: if a non-US citizen in a non-US country executes an attack against US interests, you can bet your ass that US courts have jurisdiction.

  • 1
    You're trying to move the act into Florida: I'm saying that nothing about the act is in Florida, the only way Florida gets a crack is that at some point I visit Florida. Not a Florida resident, no bank account in Florida. Is there case law to support the possibility that Florida gets to prosecute me for being a person in Florida having done those acts in another state? Looking for case law here.
    – user6726
    Oct 3, 2016 at 22:46
  • @user6726 if florida cannot find any way at all to connect the crime to their state, they cannot prosecute your for drug possesion any more than singapore could - no jurisdiction.
    – Aidan
    Oct 4, 2016 at 15:26
  • @bithakr, right, but is there any case or statutory law to support that conclusion? The only connection to Florida is my later presence in Florida.
    – user6726
    Oct 4, 2016 at 15:37

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