Double Jeopardy

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If someone has been tried for once for a certain offense, don’t expect to see their name again on different court records, being tried for the same crime.  This is thanks to the concept of double jeopardy.  The 5th Amendment of The United States Constitution contains a provision stating “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”  From this provision came the legal concept of double jeopardy.

Double jeopardy means being prosecuted twice for the same offense.  In the US legal system, because of the  5th Amendment, individuals are protected from double jeopardy where there has been an acquittal or conviction. The double jeopardy rule also applies in there cannot be multiple forms of punishment for the same offenses.  The original purpose of the double jeopardy rule was to protect citizens from oppression by the government by a means of repeated prosecution.  This protection is prosecution by both the federal and the state government.  The double jeopardy rule takes affect once the jury has been sworn into a trial. In cases without jury trials, the rule kicks in once the first witness is sworn in.

As with most laws, the double jeopardy rule isn’t as black and white as it may seem.  Much of how double jeopardy works depends on how an offense is defined legally.  For example, if someone is being charged with murder, they could not be punished twice for the murder.  However, this would not prevent the family of the murder victim from suing the accused for a civil tort, such as emotional distress.  Although that lawsuit may be related to the fact that their loved one was murdered, the lawsuit is based on a different offense.  In fact, this is a situation that often occurs.  This was seen in the high profile case of OJ Simpson, where he was acquitted of murder charges, but lost the civil lawsuit brought by the victim’s family.  Also, a defendant could receive a punishment for both attempted murder and murder, even if it applies to the same act, because those are technically different offenses.

Another exception to the double jeopardy rule applies to the prosecutor.  In some situations, a defendant could be tried for the same act by the state, and then later by the federal government. This situation does not violate the 5th Amendment.  As such, although on its face, the 5th Amendment seems to provide a great protection, there are loopholes and exceptions to be mindful of.  If you are in a situation where you think double jeopardy could apply, it is best to consult with a knowledgeable attorney, or find out more information on the subject.  To access court records, self-help resources, and even attorney referral services, visit  Through this site, you can find state specific and federal resources.

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