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October 22, 2008
PRISONS-PEOPLE CONVICTED OF STATE AND FEDERAL CRIMES
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked for a discussion of how decisions are made regarding where an individual convicted of related state and federal crimes will serve his or her prison time.
Where such an individual serves his or her sentence depends on where he or she is first convicted (state vs. federal court), whether the second court imposes a concurrent or consecutive sentence, and the length of the sentences. In practice, cases are more commonly tried in state court first, according to attorneys at the Chief State's Attorney and U. S. Attorney's offices. The timing of state trials is set by the Judicial Department. If a person is initially convicted in state court, he or she will serve the sentence in state prison; if initially convicted in federal court the person will serve the sentence in federal prison.
The judge hearing the second case will determine whether a defendant convicted in that case will serve the sentence arising from that consecutively or concurrently with the sentence imposed in the first case. The judge in the second case bases this decision, in part, on whether he or she believes the sentence imposed in the initial case was appropriate for that offense. For example, if a person is initially sentenced to a 10-year term in state court and is also sentenced to 10 years in federal court, the federal judge may require that the second sentence be served concurrently if he or she believes that the initial sentence was appropriate for the state offense. This means that the person will serve his or her entire sentence in state prison. On the other hand, if the judge in the second case believes the initial sentence was too lenient, the judge may require that all or part of the second sentence be served consecutively, i. e. , after the initial sentence is completed. If the initial sentence was imposed by the state court, the criminal will be transferred to federal prison to serve that part of the second term that is ordered to be served consecutively. If the initial sentence was imposed by the federal court, the prisoner will be transferred to state prison to serve that part of the second term that is ordered to be served consecutively.
Similarly, if the judge in the second case imposes a longer sentence in the second case than did the judge in the first case, the prisoner will be transferred between prison systems. For example, if an individual is initially sentenced to a 10-year term in state court and is subsequently sentenced to a 15-year term in federal court, he or she will be transferred from state to federal prison upon completing his or her initial sentence. The amount of time that he or she spends in federal prison under these circumstances will also depend on whether the federal judge imposes a concurrent or consecutive sentence. If an individual is initially sentenced to a 10-year term in federal court and is subsequently sentenced to a 15-year term in state court, he or she will be transferred from federal to state prison upon completing his or her initial sentence.
Nothing, however takes the place of speaking to an attorney who specializes in federal criminal law. Sometimes consultations are free of charge.
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