Determining if a Real Property is Subject to Exclusive Federal Jurisdiction

Related Resources:

  • Federal Court Jurisdiction FOIA, Form #03.030 (OFFSITE LINKS)-Use this form to determine if a specific federal courthouse is within the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress.  SEDM Forms page

When a crime is either alleged or has actually been committed within a state of the Union, it is important to be able to determine if the location where it was committed was subject to state law or federal law.  The applicable jurisdiction determines the laws that apply to the crime and the forum or court where the crime must be tried.  The reason for requiring exclusive jurisdiction in order to prosecute a crime is to prevent the person who committed it from being tried TWICE for the same crime: once by the federal government and once by the state.  The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution doesn't allow double-jeopardy, which is what this is called.

In order to try a crime under federal law, the crime must have been committed on a real property where the United States has exclusive legislative jurisdiction as required under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution.  The state and federal governments cannot have exclusive legislative jurisdiction simultaneously over the same geographic region:  Only one of them can have general jurisdiction and sovereignty over any particular region of land.

Consequently no State court will undertake to enforce the criminal law of the Union, except as regards the arrest of persons charged under such law. It is therefore clear, that the same power cannot be exercised by a State court as is exercised by the courts of the United States, in giving effect to their criminal laws…”

There is no principle better established by the common law, none more fully recognized in the federal and State constitutions, than that an individual shall not be put in jeopardy twice for the same offense. This, it is true, applies to the respective governments; but its spirit applies with equal force against a double punishment, for the same act, by a State and the federal government…..

Nothing can be more repugnant or contradictory than two punishments for the same act. It would be a mockery of justice and a reproach to civilization. It would bring our system of government into merited contempt.” 

[Fox v. The State of Ohio, 46 U.S. 410, 5 Howard 410; 12 L.Ed. 213 (1847)]

In order for the scene of the crime to come under federal jurisdiction, the land that it was committed on must have been ceded by the state to the federal government by a formal act of the state legislature, as required under 40 U.S.C. 255 and its successors, 40 U.S.C. 3111 and 3112.  Records of properties that have been ceded by a state to the federal government are maintained by the Attorney General of the United States, as well as the Attorney General of the state in question.  

To get information about the status of the real property from the Attorney General of the United States, contact the following:

Melanie Ann Pustay, Deputy Director
Office of Information and Privacy
Suite 570, Flag Building
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.  20530-0001
(202) 514-FOIA

To get information about the status of a real property from the Attorney General of the state, refer to the following link on our website, which contains a detailed listing of state information for each state of the Union: