One of the most common issues in criminal law is double jeopardy. It is mentioned in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and actually protects individuals with the statement, “no person shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This is dubbed “prohibition against double jeopardy.” In layman’s terms, double jeopardy refers to the fact that a person cannot be prosecuted more than once for the same crime. However, double jeopardy is a tricky concept.
The Double Jeopardy Clause was instituted in the Framers of the Constitution as a means to prevent the government from punishing a person for the same crime more than once. Double jeopardy protects individuals against being prosecuted for the same crime a second time after the first case resulted in an acquittal; being punished more than once for the same criminal offense; and being prosecuted for the same crime following a conviction.
If a person finds himself or herself in such a situation where any of the above scenarios are in play, they can use the Double Jeopardy Clause to protect themselves. However, it gets considerably more complicated when new evidence is discovered against the defendant. Double jeopardy still comes into play once a trial has come to an end. It also protects a defendant if a judge attempts to resentence him or her when they have already done time for the offense.
It should be noted that double jeopardy only applies to criminal cases and not civil matters. It can also only be used once the government has attempted to place an individual “in jeopardy.” In other words, the situation must go farther than merely having charges being brought upon a person and it is required that the proceedings go further. Essentially, double jeopardy does not become a factor until a court swears in a jury or a witness takes their oath to provide testimony in front of a judge.
Additionally, although the Double Jeopardy Clause can protect a person against being prosecuted for the same crime twice, it doesn’t protect a defendant against multiple prosecutions for multiple crimes of the same nature. In other words, if someone was charged with murder, they cannot be recharged for that very same murder, but if it is believed that they murdered another person as well, they can be charged for that additional crime.