When a Defendant is Charged at both the Federal Level & State Level

When a Defendant is Charged at both the Federal Level & State Level

Izzy Bielamowicz

Although it is not a common occurrence in practice, there are a handful of cases within tPP’s dataset which fall under the jurisdiction of both the federal government and the state government. In these cases, a defendant has been charged at both the federal level and at the state level for the same crime. While the exact charges presented by each jurisdiction are likely to be different, cases following this pattern present a unique obstacle for tPP’s coding process. Inclusion criteria must be met for each case, individually, and necessary changes must be made in coding to address possible repetition. Luckily, it is outlined in both the tPP manual and codebook how to approach and handle this rarity.

After working with the project for 4 semesters, I had never personally encountered a defendant who had been charged at both levels until I began researching the case of Eric K. Nix. On March 21, 2003 in Burbank, Illinois, Nix detonated an explosive device inside a van parked in front of a home being occupied by a family of Arab descent. Nix claimed that did so because of the family’s national origin and because they had chosen to live in Burbank. For more information on the details of this case, click here. The State of Illinois charged Nix in 2003 with one count of arson; one count of criminal damage to property; and one count of committing a hate crime in the incident; however, he was only sentenced to 165 days of time served, 2 years of probation, 200 hours of community service, and ordered to attend anger management classes.

The United States issued federal charges against Nix in 2006, following calls from an Islamic civil rights group. Nix was charged with one count of criminal interference with the right to fair housing and sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, 3 years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution to the family who’s van he had destroyed.

When coding this case, both the federal and state charges had to be considered within the inclusion criteria. Both of the cases fit criteria A-C:

    • A. Did the indictment occur between 01/01/1990-present?​
    • B. Did the case end in c​harges and/or prosecution in the US​? and
    • C. Do the charges include ​at least one felony?).

When considering criteria D and E:

    • D. Is the crime ​in furtherance of terrorism, extremism, or political violence, or in furtherance of the sustainability or advancement of the extremist/terrorist organization, HVE network, or extremist movement?, and/or,
    • E.​ Are the groups, individuals, monikers, networks, movements and/or tactics involved in the case described in o​fficial State speech acts ​as terroristic, extremist/HAVE, or intended to send a message on behalf of an ideology?

In considering this case, both the state and federal case fit the inclusion criteria without a doubt. Once the case was sure to be included under both jurisdictions, the codebook was followed accordingly to account for each. Case ID names were assigned as suggested in Figure 1, and charges were recorded for each case individually.

According to the tPP codebook, Eric Nix’s crime was considered as a hate crime at the state level and the federal level. The Language presented in the codebook, as identified in Figure 2, clearly identifies interference with fair housing rights as a means to label a crime such as Nix’s as a hate crime.

It is important to note; however, the variance in sentence length between the federal and state prosecutions. Because the state failed to sentence Nix to additional prison time, the sentence length assigned at the federal level appears to be much harsher at 15 months. Although it is difficult to judge whether either of these punishments were appropriate for the severity of Nix’s crime, the involvement of the federal government is telling, especially when considering the timing.

Nix was charged by the federal government three years after being charged by the Illinois state government. Of course, social pressure by advocacy groups may have contributed to this involvement; however, the severity of his crime in comparison to his punishment by the state prosecution plays an imperative role in recognizing the importance of federal action. Sometimes, cases which have been initially adopted by state jurisdiction are also charged by the federal government. This is legal thanks to the dual-sovereignty doctrine.

As recently as 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the dual-sovereignty doctrine in Gamble v. United States, meaning that successive prosecution is constitutional because a crime charged under state law and a crime charged under federal law are not considered the same offense – see this article from JD Supra. For more information about double jeopardy and the dual-sovereignty of federal and state governments, see this explanation from Wallin and Klarich Law Corporation. Ultimately, the coding process for cases such as Nix’s is outlined in tPP’s procedure, and the team is prepared to tackle complicated prosecutions such as this when a defendant is tried at both the state level and the federal level for the same crime.


Higgins, Michael. “Burbank Man Guilty of Intimidating Muslim Family.” Chicagotribune.Com. http://www.chicagotribune.com, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2006-03-07-0603070268-story.html. Accessed 7 May 2020.

“Supreme Court Upholds the Dual-Sovereignty Doctrine – What This Double Jeopardy Clause Means for Individuals.” JD Supra. http://www.jdsupra.com, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/supreme-court-upholds-the-dual-20457/. Accessed 7 May 2020.

Wallin, Paul. “Is It Double Jeopardy to Charge a Crime at State and Federal Level?” Wallin & Klarich. http://www.wklaw.com, https://www.wklaw.com/double-jeopardy-federal/. Accessed 7 May 2020.

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