How Double Jeopardy Laws Protect The Accused

Posted on: 20 May 2019

Double Jeopardy is not just a movie, it's a real legal concept and the idea hearkens all the way back to the framers of the Constitution. This legal idea is based on a past history of judicial systems that permitted the accused to be tried and tried again – until they were convicted. Along came our Fifth Amendment that set the groundwork for a way of trying the accused that has protected thousands from being tried twice for the same offense. Read on to learn some fascinating facts about this historic aspect of criminal law.

The Protections Offered

The original meaning of the word "jeopardy" had nothing to do with a popular game show and everything to do with the word "risk". If you were to think of double jeopardy in those terms, you might see that this legal concept helps ensure that the accused is not placed at risk of being put on trial more than one time. This way, the prosecution and the defense is tasked with doing the best job possible the first time around. Double jeopardy only applies in the following circumstances:

  1. After you have been convicted, you won't be prosecuted for the same crime again.
  2. After you have been convicted, your sentence (once handed down) cannot include additional punishments for the same crime.
  3. After you have been acquitted, you won't be standing trial for the same crime again.

Powerful but Limited Protections

Unfortunately, savvy prosecutors know all too well how to get around double jeopardy restrictions. You might, for example, hear of a defendant being found innocent of charge only to find them charged with a similar crime right away. Prosecutors know how to string out the charges so that the defendant stands trial for only certain charges. That gives them the opportunity to file more charges later on in an effort to make at least one charge stick and result in a conviction. For example, if someone has been accused of a double murder, they may be tried for only one murder at a time. Technically, this avoids double jeopardy but doubles the changes of the accused being convicted of murder.

Additionally, it is still possible to try someone on the same case using both the criminal and the civil courts system. For example, if someone stands trial for murder, they might also be the target of a wrongful death suit. Regardless of the findings of one court, the result may or may not influence the outcome of the cases (see O.J. Simpson case).

Discuss double jeopardy with your DWI attorney.