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Double Jeopardy if Cases in Federal and State Court?

It is rare, but one can be simultaneously prosecuted in both state court and federal court, or in one court following a prosecution in another.  This immediately offends most people as a violation of what most regard as the right against double jeopardy.

But is it?  The answer is counterintuitive: no.  The following summary of a Los Angeles County Superior Court case with a federal case preceding it exemplifies and explains why this is permitted.
In a Nutshell: The constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy (in the Fifth Amendment) is not violated if one is prosecuted in federal court and state court for the same conduct under the dual sovereignty as long as the federal and state court offenses have different elements of the offense at issue.
After a human trafficking investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California (USAO) filed charges against Astati Halim and Hendra Anwar (husband and wife), alleging they each harbored illegal aliens in violation of U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii).  

The alleged illegal aliens were three females from Indonesia “working” as domestic servants in the couple’s properties in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles.  The three females cleaned, cooked, and performed yard work approximately 16 hours per day, seven days per week, with no time off.

Pursuant to plea agreements with the USAO, Halim pleaded guilty to misuse of visas (18 U.S.C. § 1546(a)) and Anwar pleaded guilty to minimum wage violations (29 U.S.C. §§ 206(f), 215).

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office subsequently prosecuted both defendants in the downtown Clara Shortridge Foltz courthouse (CCB) for violating California’s human-trafficking statute (Penal Code § 236.1).  Defendants filed motions to dismiss the grand jury indictment on Fifth Amendment grounds under the right against double jeopardy, which they argued barred the state prosecution notwithstanding the doctrine of dual sovereignty.  

The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and Halim thereafter pleaded guilty to one count of human trafficking (§ 236.1) and Anwar pleaded guilty top being an accessory after the fact (§ 32).  Halim was sentenced to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service and was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $137,669 and a $50,000 fine.  Anwar was sentenced to two years of probation, 100 hours of community service and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

CA Second Appellate District Los AngelesCA Second Appellate District Los Angeles

The two then filed an appeal of the motion to dismiss in the Second Appellate District.  The two argued that (1) the “sham separate sovereign” exception to the dual sovereignty apply; (2) the case should be dismissed as vindictive prosecution; (3) the district attorney failed to consider the charges’ immigration consequences under Penal Code § 1016.3; (4) the federal plea agreements must be given Fifth Amendment and due process protections notwithstanding the dual sovereignty doctrine; and (5) the court should have dismissed the indictment on its own motion pursuant to Penal Code § 1385.

The Second Appellate District’s ruling began by reciting much of the facts above and noting that the plea agreement signed by Halim and Anwar with the USAO stated, “This agreement is limited to the USAO and cannot bind any other federal, state, local, or foreign prosecuting, enforcement, administrative or regulatory authorities.”  

As the Second Appellate District saw it, “the core claim of defendant’s appeal challenges the long prevailing” doctrine of dual sovereignty.  The court then commented that “we are skeptical of defendants’ arguments, but conclude their efforts to avoid the dual sovereignty rule put the cart before the horse.”  The court observed that this was so because defendant failed to show that the federal crimes to which they pleaded guilty constitute the same offense as the state charges under the governing “same elements” test,” which is based on a statutory comparison of the crimes.  United States v. Dixon (1993) 509 U.S. 688.

The same-elements test, sometimes referred to as the Blockberger test, inquires whether each offense contains an element not contained in the other; if not, they are the ‘same offense; and double jeopardy bars additional punishment and successive prosecution.

Then looking at the crimes involved, the appellate court quickly found neither misuse of visas (18 U.S.C. § 1546(a)) nor minimum wage violations (29 U.S.C. §§ 206(f), 215) constitute the same offense as human trafficking under California law at Penal Code § 236.1.  “These crimes involve entirely different elements.”

Therefore, the trial court’s denial of the motion to dismiss was affirmed.

The citation for the Second Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is People v. Astati Halim and Hendra Anwar (2d App. Dist., 2020) 14 Cal. App. 5th 632, 223 Cal. Rptr. 3d 491.

 For more information about double jeopardy, please click on the following articles:

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