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 a few important things to consider.
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 charged with and convicted of assault and battery 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.
For more information, see Child Enticement Laws.
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 every step of the court proceedings, though the defendant will have to serve any sentence imposed. Local counsel can (and should) also be hired in felony cases, but the defendant may still have to appear in court or post bail.
For more information on felonies and misdemeanors, see Classification of Crimes: Felonies & Misdemeanors.
For felonies (crimes punishable by incarceration in state prison), most courts will require an out-of-state defendant to post bail – which can be quite expensive. Bail is money that the defendant pays to the court to ensure that the defendant will return to court to face the charges. As long as the defendant does so, the bail is refunded. But, if the defendant posts bail and skips town, then 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.
For more information on bench warrants, see How to Handle an Outstanding Bench or Other Warrant or a Missed Court Date.
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.
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, a local attorney is the one person who can help you resolve the matter. If you do not take care of the charges, a warrant could be issued for your arrest, resulting in greater legal trouble. Having a warrant out for your arrest can also make it difficult to obtain a job or pass a background check. 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.