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@Raven That is impossible. The crimes at the state and federal level are ?different crimes, enacted by different sovereigns and punishing offenses against different sovereigns. While they may cover substantially similar conduct, they are different offenses. There is nothing whatsoever tying the two statutes together, and no reason why a decision by the US Congress about a federal crime would change sentences for similar state crimes. That's not how US federalism works -- the two sentences were never connected. – cpast Nov 4 '15 at 4:59

If as cpast contends, federal and state crimes are different, can one be tried for the same act on different charges and not violate double jeopardy? On the same charges in different courts?

I've tagged this as US, due to double jeopardy being the main question, but anywhere else that has similar restrictions (and presumably a federalist judiciary) is also welcome.

1 Answer 1


Yes, this is allowed. A famous example was the Rodney King beating, where police officers were acquitted at the state level but convicted federally. US v. Lanza formalized the rule, and it has survived the application of the double jeopardy rule to the states. It's called the separate sovereigns doctrine, and also applies to prosecutions by two states (see Heath v. Alabama) and by an Indian tribe and the feds (see US v. Wheeler). It does not apply between DC and the feds or territories and the feds, because DC and territorial laws are established under the power of the federal government.

These prosecutions are uncommon. As far as the feds go, they normally consider a state prosecution to have satisfied the federal interest in the case (win or lose). But prosecution by multiple sovereigns is not barred by the Fifth Amendment.

  • That's the 1978 US v Wheeler (there's more than one.)
    – D M
    May 17, 2018 at 19:02

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