If one is tried for the same offense in both state and federal court, and is convicted in both cases, then which sentence is enacted first?

For example, Dylann Roof got multiple life sentences at the state level, but the death penalty at the federal level. Obviously if the state sentence is enacted first, the death penalty would never be enacted, since he would first spend all his time in a state prison until he dies of natural causes.

  • So if the state level life sentences take precedence and after some time the state offers a pardon, the convicted better reject the pardon as accepting it would result in the federal death penalty? Mar 3, 2019 at 10:02

1 Answer 1


There is no absolute rule in such cases. It is often a matter of negotiation between the state and federal authorities, and failing agreement, a matter of which authority has the prisoner in custody. Often the question of which crime is more serious or carries a longer sentence is an issue in such negotiations.

  • 2
    If push really comes to shove, I think the federal judge can insist that the federal sentence be served first and override a state judge's order on that point under the Supremacy Clause, but it almost never happens so crudely.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 6, 2019 at 5:54

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