Los Angeles Criminal Defense Firm

Separate Sovereignty Doctrine

The Separate Sovereignty doctrine (also referred to as the Dual Sovereignty doctrine) is a legal rule that allows the federal government and the state government to prosecute an individual for an act that is a crime in both state and federal jurisdictions without violating a persons' Fifth Amendment's protection against Double Jeopardy.

The theory behind the Separate Sovereign doctrine was that the laws of both the state and federal governments, as two sovereigns, were applicable, the same act produced two crimes, and consequently a person could not be placed in jeopardy for the same crime.

  • Here is an example: A bank robbery is both a federal crime and a state crime and thus can be prosecuted by both the federal and state government. It is generally up to the state or federal prosecutors to decide which court will handle each case. Rarely will an individual be charged, convicted, and sentenced for the same crime in both state and federal courts. See Double Jeopardy.