Understanding double jeopardy
Written by Moses & Rooth on February 15, 2013
The criminal justice system both serves to hold criminal offenders accountable for their behavior and to ensure that the rights of anyone accused or convicted of criminal behavior are respected. A long-recognized right of those forced to mount a formal criminal defense is that of double jeopardy protection. This right is critical, but is widely misunderstood.
Double jeopardy protection is a constitutional right guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. As a general rule, double jeopardy protection prevents individuals from being prosecuted for the same crime more than once. However, this protection is riddled with nuance.
First, being prosecuted in criminal court for a given act does not preclude an individual from being named as a defendant in a civil suit related to the same act. The criminal and civil justice systems are distinct, so one may lawfully be held accountable for the same act in both broad systems.
In addition, the same action can result in multiple charges in multiple jurisdictions. This means that one act of alleged homicide could lawfully be tried at the federal level and again at the state level. In addition, the same act could result in various charges tied to the same act. You could be charged with homicide, with domestic battery, with conspiracy and a whole host of other charges by committing one single act.
Double jeopardy protection does prevent a single government from charging you with the exact same crime more than once. However, this protection does not necessarily prevent you from being tried for the same act in a multitude of ways.
Source: Findlaw Blotter, “What Is Double Jeopardy?” Deanne Katz, Feb. 11, 2013