Most people have heard of the legal concept "double jeopardy," but this particular term can be easily misunderstood. Double jeopardy is an important legal protection for those who've been charged with a crime, so read on to find out more.
Repeatedly Put on Trial
When the framers of the Constitution set about to create laws, they often did so with an eye toward ensuring more fairness than existed in other countries at the time. To put someone on trial for the same crime again and again until they were found guilty was not the direction they wanted to see the young country go.
The law that prevents double jeopardy is meant to protect the accused from being subjected to being put on trial for the very same offense again. The single trial is supposed to the final say in guilt or innocence. You can thank the Fifth Amendment for this important protection.
What Is Jeopardy?
This word can be interpreted to mean "risk," and it means that your rights to a fair trial cannot be risked by double jeopardy.
- You are protected against having to stand trial for the same offense if you have been acquitted of that offense.
- You are protected against having to stand trial for the same offense if you have been convicted of that same offense.
- You are protected against having to stand trial for the same offense if you have been sentenced for that same offense.
The Charges and Counts Matter
You may have noticed that often someone accused of several counts of an offense will only stand trial for one count at a time. This is a common double jeopardy "workaround" and allows the justice system to try someone multiple times for committing the same offense multiple times. For example, a suspect who is charged with selling drugs to a certain person or at a certain address can be tried multiple times as long as it can be shown to be a different person or address each time. That might be, then, one trial for each count of the same crime.
Double jeopardy only pertains to criminal cases, which means that not only can someone stand trial for the same issue on multiple occasions in civil court, but they can be tried in civil court for crimes similar to criminal charges they've already faced. If you get acquitted of murder in criminal court, you can still be tried in civil court for negligent homicide. The punishments for civil court, of course, are monetary and no prison time is possible using that venue.
Speak to a criminal defense attorney to learn more about double jeopardy.