Double Jeopardy Law

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 What Is Double Jeopardy Clause?

There are two types of laws in the United States which are meant to punish a party’s wrongdoing, as well as to compensate victims of illegal acts. These two branches of laws are known as criminal law and civil law.

Civil law is the set of laws that address behaviors that cause some sort of injury or harm to an individual or other private party. If injured a party is legally allowed to civilly sue the party that harmed them through civil lawsuits. The civil penalties for any parties that are found liable for injuring another party are generally monetary in nature.

Criminal law is the set of laws that address behaviors that are considered to be an offense against society, the state, or public. This remains true even if the victim is an individual person. An individual who is convicted of a crime may be forced to pay legal fines, or even be imprisoned for a length of time. However, when an individual is being charged with a crime, whether serious or minor, the accused party has certain legal rights, such as the right to a trial, among various other legal protections.

One such criminal legal protection afforded to an individual is the constitution protection against being made to face punishment or stand trial for the same criminal offense. This legal protection arises from the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and is known as the double jeopardy rule. Specifically, the double jeopardy rule states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime. . . nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”

In other words, the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment guarantees that a person will not be criminally tried twice for the same crime in the same jurisdiction. As such, double jeopardy occurs when an individual is charged with a crime and found innocent, and then later charged with the same crime a second time.

For example, if a person is charged with a theft offense, they cannot later then be charged or put on trial for that same theft offense. However, if that same person commits a different theft crime or subsequent offense, then charging or trying them with that subsequent crime would not be a violation of the double jeopardy clause.

Can You Be Tried Twice for the Same Crime If New Evidence is Found?

In short, it depends. The legal term criminal evidence is used to refer to any physical or verbal evidence that is presented in order to prove that a crime was actually committed. Criminal evidence can take many different forms, and criminal evidence may also be introduced by the defendant in order to prove that they are not guilty of the crime that they are being accused of.

One application of the double jeopardy clause is when law enforcement finds new evidence that may help to prove the defendant’s guilt, after the defendant was already acquitted by a jury. In this case, the prosecution cannot then charge the defendant again, even though the evidence may help demonstrate that they are guilty.

Further, under double jeopardy law, if a defendant has already served their sentence, then they cannot be tried again, even with new evidence that would have increased the criminal punishment. In all cases, the prosecution is required to first prove that the defendant committed the crime that they are being accused of beyond a reasonable doubt.

What Are Some Examples of Double Jeopardy?

As mentioned above, there are numerous scenarios in which double jeopardy may occur. Generally speaking, double jeopardy protects an individual against three different scenarios:

  1. A second prosecution for the same criminal offense after the defendant was convicted;
  2. A second prosecution for the same criminal offense after the defendant was acquitted; and/or
  3. Multiple criminal punishments for the same criminal offense.

There are many different double jeopardy examples, such as if a person is charged with manslaughter, but later acquitted, then they may not later be charged with manslaughter, even if further evidence is found.

Exceptions to the Double Jeopardy Clause

It is important to note that double jeopardy does not apply and is not available in every case. Once again, an individual can still be criminally tried twice based on the same facts, so long as the legal elements of each crime are different. Additionally, different jurisdictions can charge the same defendant with the same crime based on the same facts without violating their Fifth Amendment rights.

For example, the federal and state governments can both legally try the same defendant for the same criminal act, as long as some aspect of the defendant’s conduct violated both a federal and a state law. This is because double jeopardy prohibits only more than one criminal prosecution based on the same facts and same crime.

Additionally, even though double jeopardy prohibits different prosecutions for the same criminal offense, double jeopardy does not protect defendants from multiple prosecutions for multiple criminal offenses. For instance, if a defendant was acquitted of first degree murder, they could still be tried again on the lesser offense of second degree murder or manslaughter.

Finally, double jeopardy does not prevent a person from being civilly liable for their criminal actions. This means that double jeopardy applies only in criminal court cases, and does not prevent a defendant from being civilly sued for the same act.

For instance, if a person is not convicted for battery involving them assaulting another person, they may still be sued civilly for any civil damages that arose from the same instance, and does not prevent defendants from being sued in civil court over their involvement in the same act.

Finally, in order for double jeopardy to even apply in a criminal matter, the prosecution must actually place the defendant in jeopardy. This typically means that the defendant must be placed on trial before they can claim double jeopardy as a legal defense. This is what is known as double jeopardy attaching to the defendant.

When Does Double Jeopardy Apply?

As mentioned above, double jeopardy does not apply in every situation. In fact, double jeopardy only applies to criminal cases only, and not in civil proceedings. As such, a defendant can only invoke the Fifth Amendment double jeopardy clause when the government has placed the defendant in jeopardy as discussed above.

When Does Double Jeopardy Not Apply?

In general double jeopardy does not apply in the following situations:

  • Mistrial: Double jeopardy does not apply in situations in which the case was terminated because of a “hung jury” or a “mistrial”
    • In those cases, the defendant can later be retried on the same crime because their case did not end on the merits of the case;
  • Sovereign: Double jeopardy also does not prevent another sovereign, such as the federal government, from prosecuting the defendant on the same crime; and
  • Multiple Offenses: Double jeopardy also only protects against prosecution for the same offense, but does not prevent the prosecution from prosecuting the defendant on the same crime with multiple charges of the criminal offense.

When Does Double Jeopardy “Attach”?

As mentioned above, in order for double jeopardy to apply, it must first attach to the criminal defendant. Double jeopardy attaches to a defendant when the defendant’s life or liberties are placed in a position of compromise, which typically occurs when:

  • The jury becomes empaneled for the criminal case;
  • The first witness gets sworn in for bench trial cases; or
  • There is an unconditional acceptance of a plea.

What if the Prosecution Dropped Charges?

Once again, if the prosecution drops the criminal charges against the defendant, then double jeopardy will typically not be attached. However, if the charges are dismissed or the defendant is acquitted after double jeopardy has been attached to the defendant, then they cannot be charged again.

Seeking Legal Help

If you believe that you have been criminally charged, or are being prosecuted twice for the same criminal action, it is in your best interests to immediately contact an experienced criminal lawyer.

An experienced criminal lawyer will be able to advise you of your rights, if there are any legal defenses available to you, such as asserting double jeopardy, and be able to represent you at any necessary in person criminal proceeding.

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