What Is Double Jeopardy, and How Does It Protect Defendants?

A provision of the Fifth Amendment, the double jeopardy clause protects criminal defendants from being tried twice for the same crime. It attaches when the government puts the defendant in “jeopardy” and ends when the case concludes. The clause applies to both state and federal governments. Still, a defendant can be prosecuted for the same crime under both jurisdictions because they are considered separate sovereigns.

Ensuring that your rights are protected is paramount in a criminal case. A defense attorney is instrumental in facilitating a fair trial.

To speak with one of our Boston lawyers at Brad Bailey Law about your case, please contact us at (617) 500-0252.

A Brief History of the Double Jeopardy Clause

Double jeopardy is a protection afforded by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Amendment states that no person shall “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…”

The current language evolved from James Madison’s wording, stating that “no person shall be subject to more than one punishment or trial for the same offense.” Madison’s version was rejected by the House, as it could have been interpreted as barring a new trial even upon a successful appeal, which would make appellate courts hesitant about reversing convictions.

Double jeopardy has been used throughout the years to protect individuals and preserve the finality of judgments in criminal cases, ensuring that no one will be subject to multiple convictions or punishments for one offense.

How Double Jeopardy Works

For the double jeopardy clause to apply, the government must place a defendant in a state of “jeopardy.” Jeopardy typically attaches to a criminal case upon the swearing-in of a jury or when the first witness testifies in a bench trial.

Thus, a defendant is not in jeopardy just because the prosecutor has filed charges. In fact, the prosecutor might file charges, drop them, and then refile. Their actions would not violate double jeopardy protections.

The state of jeopardy is terminated when the case ends. Typically, a case is concluded when the jury reaches a verdict or the judge enters a judgment. After the case's conclusion, the defendant cannot be retried for the same crime.

Still, situations exist where the defendant could go to trial again. This includes when the initial case ends with an inconclusive result, such as a hung jury. A subsequent trial may also be held if the defendant successfully appeals the trial court’s decision.

Double jeopardy only applies to the criminal proceedings. Defendants can still be subject to civil lawsuits and administrative actions regardless of what happens in criminal court.

Benefits for the Defendant

Double jeopardy is an important legal principle protecting defendants from the threat of being tried twice for the same offense.

The protection offers several other benefits to defendants, such as:

  • Not being exposed to the stresses of the same experience
  • Being protected from multiple punishments for the same crime
  • Avoiding overreaches by governmental bodies

The Application of Double Jeopardy to State and Federal Cases

The principle of double jeopardy is a fundamental protection enshrined in the United States Constitution, upholding justice and liberty. While it was once only applicable to the federal government, it has since been extended to the states, ensuring that ideals that are the cornerstone of our legal system remain constant in all situations and across jurisdictional boundaries.

That said, a principle called the “dual sovereign doctrine” enables different government entities to prosecute an individual for the same crime. In other words, if a person’s conduct violates both state and federal laws, the individual can be tried by the state and federal governments.

The dual sovereign doctrine is rooted in the concept that state and federal governments are two separate sovereigns. This means that it is not a violation of a defendant’s rights for both governments to prosecute them.

Similarly, two separate states can also try a defendant for the same crime because each state is its own sovereign.

Reach Out to Our Firm Today

The double jeopardy clause has a long history and provides important protections for criminal defendants. If you have been charged with a state or federal crime, having a criminal defense attorney on your side is imperative for ensuring that you understand your rights and that they remain protected.

Allow our Boston team at Brad Bailey Law to review your case and discuss your legal options. Call (617) 500-0252 or contact us online today.