Double Jeopardy Law

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Is the Double Jeopardy Clause?

The U.S. Constitution stands as the backbone of American legal principles, ensuring that the rights of citizens are upheld. One important component of this document is the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Located within the Fifth Amendment, this clause states that no person shall “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” In simpler terms, this statement means that once someone has been tried for a particular crime, they cannot be tried again for the same crime based on the same facts. This protection ensures fairness in the criminal charges process.

If you believe your defendant’s rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause might have been violated or need clarity on its applications following an arrest, it’s time to seek legal guidance. Read on to learn more.

When Does the Double Jeopardy Clause Apply?

Imagine You’re a defendant in a trial, facing criminal charges. If the trial concludes and you are acquitted (found not guilty), the Double Jeopardy Clause protects you from being tried again for that same crime. However, it’s important to understand that this protection applies to specific conditions.

Protection Against Retrials by the Same Sovereign

The concept of “sovereign” in legal terms can be likened to a governing authority or entity. Within the boundaries of the United States, multiple “sovereigns” exist. While each state represents its own sovereign, there’s also the overarching federal government, a separate sovereign.

Let’s demonstrate this with an example: Imagine you’re tried for a crime in California and subsequently acquitted. The Double Jeopardy Clause ensures California cannot retry you for that crime.

However, the twist comes in when we consider the federal government. If the crime you were acquitted of in California also violates federal law, the U.S. federal government, being a different sovereign, has the authority to try you for that same crime under federal jurisdiction. While this may seem like a loophole, it manifests the specific powers held by state and federal systems.

Protection Against Multiple Punishments

The Double Jeopardy Clause isn’t just about retrials. It’s also a protection against being punished more than once for the same crime. To clarify, once a defendant has been convicted and a sentence has been handed down, that’s it. The case is resolved, and the punishment set cannot be altered to become more severe later.

For instance, if someone is found guilty of theft and sentenced to two years in prison, the state cannot later decide to increase the sentence to five years based on the same conviction. This aspect of the Double Jeopardy Clause ensures that justice, once served, remains consistent and unchanging, offering defendants a sense of closure and security.

When Does Jeopardy “Attach”?

To “attach,” in the context of Double Jeopardy, refers to the exact moment a defendant comes under the protective umbrella of the Double Jeopardy Clause.

The Significance of a Jury Trial

In a jury trial, this defining moment is when the jury, a group of peers selected to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence, is sworn in. This oath signifies the jury’s commitment to impartially review the evidence and deliver a just verdict. From this moment on, the defendant is officially “in jeopardy,” meaning the stakes have been raised, and they are at risk of conviction.

Bench Trials: A Different Scenario

Now, let’s switch gears and look at bench trials, which don’t involve a jury. Instead, the judge assumes the role of the decision-maker. Here, jeopardy attaches not when proceedings begin but specifically when the first witness is sworn in. The act of a witness taking an oath indicates the trial’s transition into a phase where testimonies, which can greatly influence the outcome, are presented.

Exceptions & Considerations

Some specific circumstances and exceptions can make applying the Double Jeopardy Clause more nuanced. Let’s dive deeper into one such scenario, where a trial concludes without a clear verdict.

Imagine a courtroom drama unfolding. The prosecution and defense have made their cases, and now it’s up to the jury to decide the defendant’s fate. Hours turn into days, and despite their best efforts, the jury can’t come to a unanimous decision. This situation is commonly known as a “hung jury,” and it leads to what’s called a mistrial.

Now, what happens next?

If a trial ends in a mistrial for reasons beyond the defendant’s control, such as the jury is hopelessly deadlocked, the general rule is that the defendant cannot face a retrial for the same crime. Why? Because they’ve technically been “in jeopardy” once, and the Double Jeopardy Clause aims to shield them from being tried continuously for the same offense.

However, let’s add a twist. Sensing the trial isn’t going in their favor, the defendant deliberately creates disruptions. Maybe they continuously speak out of turn, intimidate witnesses, or engage in behaviors that lead the judge to declare a mistrial. In such cases, the mistrial resulted from the defendant’s actions.

When a defendant intentionally causes a mistrial, the landscape shifts. The courts recognize that allowing someone to escape a potential conviction would be unfair by sabotaging their own trial. Therefore, in scenarios where the defendant is the root cause of the mistrial, the protection of the Double Jeopardy Clause might not come into play. This means they could be tried again for the same crime.

Historical Significance of the Double Jeopardy Clause

The Double Jeopardy Clause’s origins and underlying principles date back centuries. Let’s return to see where this idea started and how it became the U.S. Constitution.

Ancient Beginnings

Believe it or not, the seeds of the Double Jeopardy principle were planted in ancient civilizations. The Greeks and Romans had legal standards that discouraged punishing someone twice for the same crime. They recognized that it was unfair for a person to constantly fear prosecution for an act they had already faced judgment for.

Influences from English Law

Fast forward to medieval England, and we see the same principle echoed in their common law. English courts believed that subjecting a person to multiple trials for the same act was not just about fairness. It was about respecting the dignity and peace of mind of the person. The English took it so seriously that they even had a Latin phrase: nemo debet bis vexari, which means “no one should be vexed (or troubled) twice.”

As settlers moved to the New World and established colonies, they brought elements of English law, including double jeopardy.

Framing the U.S. Constitution

When the framers of the U.S. Constitution gathered to draft this foundational document, they were heavily influenced by English legal traditions. They saw the importance of protecting citizens from potential abuse of power by the government. If there were no rules against it, what would stop the government from repeatedly prosecuting someone until they achieved the desired conviction?

As a result, they incorporated the Double Jeopardy Clause into the Fifth Amendment. By doing so, they made a powerful statement: In America, justice is not just about punishment; it’s also about fairness, consistency, and respect for individual rights.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Double Jeopardy Issues?

Yes. Make sure your legal rights are upheld. Contact an experienced criminal lawyer through LegalMatch today if you’re facing double jeopardy issues. A lawyer found on LegalMatch can provide guidance, defend your rights, and help you navigate the intricacies of the U.S. legal system.


16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer