Long story short:

If you plead guilty to a charge from some specific state (say Alaska) and accept a plea bargain in exchange, can the federal government then come in and charge you separately for the same crimes (perhaps under different federal statutes) then use your guilty plea to the state level charges as evidence against you for a larger case?

Long story long, my brother is currently incarcerated in Alaska on drug-related charges awaiting trial and was recently offered a seemingly light plea deal. He tells us horror stories of other people in the penitentiary who've pled guilty to state-level charges with a good plea deal only to be railroaded by the feds with a decades long sentence, using the guilty plea to lesser state-level charges as evidence in a larger case.

Can he be prosecuted on both federal, and state level charges for the same crime? If so, can the feds use his state-level guilty plea?



A person can be charged with and possibly convicted of both Federal and State crimes for the same set of events, if they involve violations of both Federal and State laws. Double jeopardy does not bar such a prosecution because they are considers two different crimes, and the double jeopardy clause reads:

[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.

This is not considered the "same offense".

This is true whether or not a plea bargain is involved.

The Wikipedia article linked above says:

The government of the United States and of each State therein may each enact their own laws and prosecute crimes pursuant thereto, provided there is no prohibition by the Constitution of the United States or of the state in question. Such is known as the "dual sovereignty" or "separate sovereigns" doctrine

In United States v. Lanza, 260 U.S. 377 (1922) the US Supreme Court wrote:

The defendants insist that two punishments for the same act, one under the National Prohibition Act and the other under a state law, constitute double jeopardy under the Fifth Amendment, and, in support of this position, it is argued that both laws derive their force from the same authority -- the second section of the amendment -- and therefore that, in principle, it is as if both punishments were in prosecutions by the United States in its courts.


It follows that an act denounced as a crime by both national and state sovereignties is an offense against the peace and dignity of both, and may be punished by each. The Fifth Amendment, like all the other guaranties in the first eight amendments, applies only to proceedings by the federal government, Barron v. City of Baltimore, 7 Pet. 243, and the double jeopardy therein forbidden is a second prosecution under authority of the federal government after a first trial for the same offense under the same authority. Here, the same act was an offense against the state of Washington, because a violation of its law, and also an offense against the United States under the National Prohibition Act. The defendants thus committed two different offenses by the same act, and a conviction by a court of Washington of the offense against that state is not a conviction of the different offense against the United States, and so is not double jeopardy

It is interesting to note that as late as 1922 this court seemed to think that none of the bill of rights had been incorporated into the 14th amendment and thus made applicable to the states. But that would not have changed the decision in this case.

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  • Thank you very much, I would upvote if I had the ability. Can a guilty plea to state level charges strengthen the federal case? – Bob Mar 14 '19 at 0:10
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    @Bob Any facts admitted in pleading to the state charge could, I would think, be used in the federal case, but this is something which a person should explore with his or her lawyer before pleading guilty to any crime. Exactly which facts would be relevant demands a knowledge of specifics which is beyond the scope of this site. If a lawyer did not advise a person of the consequences before peading guilty, there might be a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, but that will depend very much of specific details. – David Siegel Mar 14 '19 at 0:30
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    Much appreciated David, we'll consult the family lawyer for specifics. – Bob Mar 14 '19 at 0:46
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    To provide a concrete example, a guilty plea to a state criminal offense is sometimes used to prove a federal immigration offense that makes someone deportable. – ohwilleke Mar 15 '19 at 14:26
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    "same sewt of events" typo for "set", I take it? – Acccumulation Mar 15 '19 at 18:58

I have counted and there is way more than double jeopardy:

  1. state;
  2. federal;
  3. military (if your brother was miitary at the time of the alleged offense then it may be a separate military offense);
  4. tribal (if your brother is a member of a Native tribe or the alleged offense occurred on a tribal reservation);
  5. international (the United States has criminalized certain actions taken by non-resident aliens outside the US borders ... your brother's actions may have violated the laws of one or more foreign nations)
  6. civil (your brother's plea agreement can be used against him in civil litigation)

As a practical matter, I think your brother should be primarily worried about federal jerks but there are at least 4 other exposures.

It seems your brother is being offered a post-conviction plea deal - which seems curious and strange to me.

IANAL but it seems that the feds could use the fact of a state conviction to the same effect as a guilty plea. If my idea is correct, then as long as your brother pleads guilty to a set of offenses less than or equal to the set of offenses for which he has already been convicted, then he should be OK.

OTH if the state just wanted to reduce your brother's sentence they could achieve that unilaterally without any action on your brother's part. He does not have a right to be incarcerated. They can just kick him out of prison just because they feel like it and he has absolutely no right to appeal that decision. Thus, the fact that they are seeking his "buy-in" suggests they are seeking to rat-fuck him.

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