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Can You Be Charged for the Same Crime in Arizona State Court and Federal Court?

The Double Jeopardy Clause, contained in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, states that no person can be “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Given that seemingly clear language, it would stand to reason that someone who was arrested for a crime in Arizona could only be charged by the State of Arizona or by the federal government, but not both. However, in a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion, a majority of the Court reaffirmed an old exception to the Double Jeopardy clause allowing a defendant to be prosecuted for the same crime under both state and federal law.

In that case, the defendant was pulled over when a police officer noticed that his vehicle had a damaged headlight. The officer smelled marijuana inside the defendant’s car, searched it, and found a handgun. The defendant was ineligible to own the gun because he had previously suffered a conviction for second-degree robbery. The defendant pleaded guilty in state court. Subsequently, the federal authorities indicted him for the same offense.

The defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the federal conviction exposed him to double jeopardy for the same offense. The defendant’s motion was denied, and he appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court Affirms the “Dual Sovereignty” Doctrine

The Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction, holding that a prosecution for the same “actions” in both state and federal court does not offend the principles of double jeopardy. The Court began by noting that the Double Jeopardy Clause protects citizens from being prosecuted for the same “offence,” and not the same “conduct or actions.” The Court went on to explain that under the dual-sovereignty doctrine, “an ‘offence’ is defined by a law, and each law is defined by a sovereign. So where there are two sovereigns, there are two laws, and two “offences.”

The Court was not unanimous in its decision, with two Justices who often find themselves on opposite ends of the criminal-justice spectrum agreeing that the defendant should not be subject to prosecution in both the state and federal system. Justices Gorsuch and Ginsburg each authored a dissent, explaining their reasoning for abandoning the dual-sovereignty rule. Each Justice would have abandoned the rule (as well as the line of case law upholding it) for a more common-sense reading of the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a crime in Arizona, Attorney James E. Novak can help. Attorney Novak is a dedicated criminal defense attorney who handles a wide range of cases, including Arizona gun crimes and drug offenses. Attorney Novak provides reasoned advice to his clients on the likely impact of their decisions, while zealously advocating on their behalf. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

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