Few things in life are more stressful than facing criminal charges. After all, if your conduct was serious, you may spend years in prison after a guilty verdict. Fortunately, in many cases, you do not have to worry about other states charging you with a crime. That is not always true, however.
Vigorously defending yourself against criminal charges is often an effective way to protect your freedom and safeguard your future. To know whether you are apt to face prosecution in more than one place, though, you must understand both double jeopardy and state sovereignty.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits prosecutors from prosecuting criminal defendants more than once for essentially the same crime. That is, if a judge or jury acquits you of a crime, prosecutors may not file new charges in hopes of securing a guilty verdict. Still, double-jeopardy protections only apply to the same matter in the same jurisdiction. If your conduct violates the law of two or more states, prosecutors may bring charges in each state without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
In the American system of government, states retain sovereignty. The federal government also has its own sovereignty, allowing federal officials to prosecute federal crimes. Therefore, if a single crime violates the laws of more than one place, you may face criminal charges in every jurisdiction where you broke the law. As you may suspect, because licenses to practice law are specific to a single jurisdiction, you may have to hire more than one attorney to represent you in each matter. Or, you may have to find a lawyer who holds a license from each jurisdiction where you are facing charges.
To respect your fundamental rights, prosecutors should not harass you by repeatedly charging you for the same crime until they secure a conviction. Because the country has many different state and federal laws, though, you must investigate whether your conduct violates the laws of more than one jurisdiction. If it does, you must understand your potential exposure before planning your defense.