Criminal Law & Procedure: Jurisdiction & Venue: Conflicts of Laws
When a criminal offense has been committed on land or buildings that have been reserved or acquired by the federal government, and the offense is not a federal offense, state law will apply to the offense under the Assimilative Crimes Act. When the federal government prosecutes the offense, it is not enforcing state law. It is enforcing the federal law by incorporating or by applying the state law to the offense.
State law is applied or incorporated under the Assimilative Crimes Act only when Congress has not enacted a statute that prohibits a criminal offense. In other words, when the offense is not a federal offense. However, because the offense has been committed on land that is owned by the federal government, the federal government is entitled to prosecute the offense by applying the state law to the offense. For example, when a murder is committed on land that is owned by the federal government, the federal government will apply the elements for murder under state law because murder is not a federal offense.
When a member of the United States Armed Forces commits an offense on a military base, the federal government may prosecute the member under the Assimilative Crimes Act, even if the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) prohibits the offense. The reason for this is that the UCMF is not considered to be an enactment of Congress within the meaning of the Assimilative Crimes Act. Even though the member may be subject to a court martial under the UCMJ, the federal government may prosecute the member in federal court for a violation of state law. This scenario normally occurs when the military has referred the case to the federal government for prosecution. However, the member cannot be prosecuted by both the federal government and the military. The member cannot be subjected to double jeopardy for the offense.
Under the Assimilative Crimes Act, the federal government may not apply state regulatory laws to a criminal offense. The federal government may also not incorporate state administrative penalties to a criminal offense, such as the suspension of a driver's license or any other state license.
When a federal regulation prohibits a criminal offense, the offense cannot generally be prosecuted under the Assimilative Crimes Act. It can only be prosecuted in accordance with the federal regulation. In other words, state law does not apply to the offense when the same act is prohibited by the federal regulation. However, if an act is not precisely the same as the act that is prohibited by the federal regulation, the federal government may choose whether to prosecute a defendant under the federal regulation or under the Assimilative Crimes Act.
Copyright 2014 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.