What Happens If You Commit a Crime in Another State?

Being charged with a crime is always an unpleasant experience, but dealing with criminal charges in another state can be even more challenging.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Being charged with a crime is always an unpleasant experience, but dealing with criminal charges in another state can be even more challenging. You may have to post bail, which can be expensive, and you may have to appear in court multiple times. It can be bewildering to navigate any criminal justice system, but even more so if you are from out of state. If you are facing criminal charges in another state, here are some important things to consider.

Dealing With Out-of-State Criminal Charges

If you commit a crime in another state, you are subject to that state's jurisdiction for criminal arrest and prosecution. Each state has its own criminal laws, so that state's criminal laws will apply to your case.

What Is Jurisdiction?

States have jurisdiction (the power to prosecute) any crime that occurs within that state. So, an Alabama football fan who attends a game in Georgia and gets into a fight at a tailgating party can be arrested for, charged with, and convicted of assault and battery in Georgia. If sentenced, the Alabama fan will serve that time in Georgia.

States can also have jurisdiction over some crimes even if the defendant never actually sets foot in that state. For example, states have laws against child enticement (asking or encouraging a child to engage in sexual behavior). In some states, these laws apply to anyone who engages in that conduct with a child in that state, even if the conversation occurs online. So a man in any state who chats online with a child in, say, Tennessee and asks that child to meet him for sexual activity could be charged in Tennessee, even if the man never goes to Tennessee and never meets the child.

Can You Be Held in Jail for an Out-of-State Arrest?

Yes, the jurisdiction that arrests you can hold you in jail pretrial. You're still entitled to a bail hearing and appointment of counsel if you can't afford a lawyer. But that jurisdiction doesn't care where you're from when it comes to an arrest. They only care that you committed a crime in their jurisdiction.

Can You Leave the State With Pending Felony or Misdemeanor Charges?

You may be able to leave the state—but that doesn't mean you should, nor does it mean you can avoid prosecution by doing so.

If you have felony charges, the answer likely depends on your bail conditions. The judge may have released you on bail pending trial but subject to certain conditions. One of those conditions might be not leaving the state.

If you haven't been arrested or detained, you can likely leave the state but you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney before doing so. You could fly home and then find out you have a court appearance the next day. An attorney can help you understand what's typically expected of you in terms of appearances and the repercussions for not showing up.

Can You Post Bail in Another State?

Bail is money that the defendant pays to the court to ensure that the defendant will return to court to face the charges. When setting bail, the judge looks at several factors to determine if the defendant is a potential flight risk. As you can imagine, the defendant's residence and ties to the community are important considerations. The judge can set higher bail for an out-of-state resident, especially if the defendant faces felony charges, lives far away, or has a history of failing to appear.

As long as a defendant shows up for all court hearings, the court refunds the bail (even if convicted). But, if the defendant posts bail and skips town, the court keeps the bail money and the judge can issue a bench warrant for the defendant's arrest. For example, suppose a woman is arrested in Oregon for drunk driving while visiting her brother. She posts bail and then flies home to Arizona without retaining a lawyer or doing anything else about the charges. When she fails to appear for her court date, she forfeits her bail money and the judge in Oregon can issue a bench warrant for her arrest.

Do You Have to Show Up for Out-of-State Court Appearances?

A defendant's personal appearance at criminal proceedings is generally required. However, state court rules may allow a defendant to appear through their attorney for certain proceedings. Depending on the specific state's rules and the seriousness of the charges, the defendant may need the judge's approval to allow appearances through counsel.

For misdemeanors (in most states, crimes punishable by up to one year in jail), most states will allow a local attorney hired by an out-of-state defendant to handle the case. Then, the defendant does not have to appear in court. The attorney stands in for the defendant at all (or most) court proceedings.

The rules, though, are typically different for defendants facing felony charges. In most felony cases, the defendant must appear in person for important court proceedings, such as arraignment, plea hearings, trial, and sentencing. For other hearings, the defendant may ask the court's permission to appear through counsel, which the judge can deny.

Don't confuse appearing through counsel as an excuse to not show up in court. To be excused from appearing in person, the defendant must typically get the court's approval beforehand. A defendant who simply doesn't show up can be arrested for failure to appear and have bail forfeited.

If You Have an Out-of-State Warrant, Can a State Extradite You?

If an arrest warrant has been issued, a person can be extradited (transported to a state to face criminal charges). Generally, the state in which the person is facing criminal charges makes a formal request for extradition to the state in which the person is located. The defendant is entitled to a hearing before being moved, and if there are facts to support the extradition request, the defendant will be transported to the other state to face charges.

Extradition is expensive, and usually, states do not extradite people for minor offenses. However, once an arrest warrant is issued, a person can be taken into custody if they come into contact with a law enforcement officer for any reason. So, if a driver is stopped in Arizona and a computer check reveals an Oregon warrant in the person's name, the driver could be taken into custody, regardless of the basis for the stop. If the person is held in custody, Oregon might be more likely to request extradition. Even if the person is never stopped or arrested, some warrant information can easily be searched online.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

You should always talk to a criminal defense attorney if you are charged with or being investigated for any crime. But if you are charged with a crime in another state, it is imperative that you talk to an attorney who practices in that state.

When you are facing out-of-state criminal charges, you want a local attorney who's familiar with that state's laws and local court rules. A local attorney can explain the charges and tell you how your case is likely to fare in court, depending on the judge and prosecutor and how they are likely to treat an out-of-state defendant. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights and make sure that the case is resolved in the best way possible.

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