Understanding the Concept of Double Jeopardy

Essentially Double Jeopardy is being tried for the same crime or offense more than once. The 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution is commonly referred to as the “Double Jeopardy clause.” The 5th Amendment states that “No person . . . shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” However, today one need not face execution or physical injury to his or her body to be protected by the Double Jeopardy clause. The United States Supreme Court has since expanded the Double Jeopardy clause to apply to any criminal cases – misdemeanors, felonies, and juvenile proceedings (Youth Court).  
It is important to note that the Double Jeopardy clause only applies to criminal cases—not to civil cases or actions of administrative agencies. Therefore, even though a person has been tried and convicted in a drunk driving case, he or she could still be sued in civil court for any damages he or she may have caused due to driving drunk (property damage or personal injuries). Additionally, his or her driver’s license could be suspended by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.  
Why is the Double Jeopardy clause important? Without the protection from Double Jeopardy, a person who has been found not guilty or acquitted of a crime could be tried again for the same offense until such time as he or she is ultimately convicted. Also, the Double Jeopardy clause creates finality of criminal charges. That means once a person has been tried and acquitted for a crime, even if new evidence is later discovered, he or she cannot be tried again for that crime. It also means a person cannot be criminally punished more than once for the same crime.
Jeopardy does not “attach” or begin merely because a person has been arrested for a crime. It does not attach even if the person has been formally charged, indicted, or arraigned on that charge. In cases which are tried before a jury, jeopardy attaches once the jury has been sworn. In bench trials (cases tried by a judge without a jury), jeopardy attaches when the first witness has been sworn and takes the stand to testify.  
Just as jeopardy attaches, it must end or terminate in order for the Double Jeopardy clause to prohibit being charged and tried again for the same crime. Jeopardy terminates when a defendant is acquitted, when a trial is dismissed, when a mistrial is granted (though not in the case of a hung jury), or on appeal following a conviction. At this point, double jeopardy protection will take effect for the duration of the defendant’s life, preventing them from facing judgment for the same offense—though it is important to note that determining whether or not an individual is facing charges or prosecution for the same offense is a complex matter that is oftentimes open to interpretation.
Finally, another important caveat to the Double Jeopardy clause that should be noted is that it only bars subsequent prosecutions by the same sovereign or government. This means that if a state court tried a defendant for a particular crime and fails to get a conviction, the federal government can try the defendant again for the same conduct, so long as federal laws were also violated.
If you are facing criminal charges of any nature, it is essential that you enlist the services of a skilled defense attorney who will fight to defend your rights, including the right of Double Jeopardy. Contact the law firm of Weisberg Kainen Mark today to learn how we can help!

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Weisberg Kainen Mark, PL

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