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What Happens When Someone Is Sentenced To Both Federal And State Prison At The Same Time?

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What Happens When Someone Is Sentenced To Both Federal And State Prison At The Same Time?


The criminal justice system in the United States is based on the principle of “dual sovereignty.” This means that both the federal and the state governments have their own distinct, sovereign power to define and punish criminal behavior. It is therefore possible for someone to be tried, convicted, and sentenced separately in both state and federal court.

Texas Man Receives 10-Year Sentence for Assault, Another 6 Years for Drug Possession

So what happens, for instance, if a person is sentenced to both a federal and state prison sentence at the same time? Do the sentences run consecutively–i.e., one after the other–or do they run concurrently?

A Texas state appeals court recently confronted this conundrum. In Woodrome v. State, the defendant pleaded guilty in 2012 to second-degree felony aggravated assault in state court. The trial judge decided to defer adjudication and placed the defendant on 10 years community supervision (probation). Basically, if the defendant managed to complete the 10 years without committing any new crimes, the original felony assault charge would be dismissed.

Unfortunately, the defendant ran into trouble in 2019 when he was arrested on federal drug charges. The defendant then reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, and he pleaded guilty to “possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.” A federal judge subsequently sentenced the defendant to six years in prison for that charge.

Based on this new conviction, state prosecutors then moved to adjudicate the defendant’s guilt on the 2012 assault charge. The prosecution recommended a sentence of five years on the state conviction. The trial court elected to impose a ten-year sentence.

The defendant appealed the 10-year sentence, which he argued was an abuse of discretion by the sentencing judge. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument. But it did clarify that the defendant’s 10-year state sentence should run concurrently with his 6-year federal sentence.

The Court of Appeals explained that under Texas law, when a sentencing court does not specify whether two or more sentences from different prosecutions should run consecutively, then they must run concurrently. In practical terms, this means that the defendant would receive credit for any time served in federal prison against his state sentence. But the appellate court noted that because of dual sovereignty, it could not order the federal courts to credit any time the defendant served in state prison against his federal sentence. Only a federal judge or the Federal Bureau of Prisons could make that determination.

Contact Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today

The overlapping nature of the federal and state criminal justice systems often leads to understandable confusion for people accused of crimes in either (or both). That is why if you are charged with any sort of crime, regardless of jurisdiction, it is important to work with an experienced Pearland assault and battery defense lawyer who can advise you of your rights and represent your interests in court. Contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.


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