Can I Be Re-Tried for the Same Criminal Offense?

SQ Attorneys

Many people may have heard the term “double jeopardy” at some point but the question that arises is, what does it mean? The protection against double jeopardy keeps criminal defendants from facing prosecution more than once for the same offense (with a few exceptions). Once jeopardy attaches and a criminal case begins, this protection can prevent lives from being consumed by legal proceedings. It can also save governments time and money.

The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment contains the the principle of double jeopardy. It states no person shall “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Most state constitutions similarly protect individuals from retrial for the same crime. For criminal defendants, this is a crucial constitutional right. It generally applies regardless of the severity of the alleged crime.

For example, suppose that local prosecutors charge a defendant for burglary, and the case proceeds to trial by jury. If the jury returns an acquittal, even if the prosecution disagrees with the result, the protection from double jeopardy stops them from re-trying the defendant for the same criminal offense. Someone else, like an accomplice, could still be charged and tried for the offense. However, there are exceptions to the rule.

The text of the fifth amendment refers to being placed twice in jeopardy of “life or limb.” The law is not applied so literally. The Supreme Court says the principle provides protections against the retrial for all kinds of felonies, misdemeanors and juvenile delinquency adjudications. The potential punishment does not matter.

There are limits to double jeopardy to keep in mind. First, if a defendant was never previously in legal “jeopardy,” then subsequent prosecution is not prohibited. Generally, jeopardy attaches in a case when a jury is seated and sworn in.

If prosecutors take certain actions before jeopardy begins, or attaches, such as dismissing the indictment, the rule will not prevent them from later trying the same person for the same offense. Essentially, this allows the prosecution to direct a thorough investigation and adequately prepare for trial.

Once an individual has been placed in legal jeopardy and the jeopardy has ended, the government cannot continue to pursue a prosecution against the person for the same crime, because this would violate the rule against double jeopardy. Jeopardy will always end after a jury’s verdict of acquittal.

What if the court declares a mistrial? There are multiple reasons a mistrial can be declared, such as if the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict. In most cases, a mistrial does not stop the government from prosecuting the case again. However, if there has been prosecutorial misconduct or bad faith, double jeopardy can sometimes preclude the prosecution from bringing charges again.

Finally, the double jeopardy rule applies to re-prosecution of the same person for the same offense, but what constitutes the same offense? State and federal courts apply a multitude of tests to determine whether the same facts have already been litigated.

Courts determine whether the “actual evidence” has already been presented in court. Were the alleged criminal acts part of the “same transaction?” Is a court essentially accusing the defendant a second time for the “same conduct?”

The Supreme Court has ruled that double jeopardy rules apply to lesser-included and greater-included offenses (Brown v. Ohio). For example, if a man hits his wife in a jealous rage and is convicted of assault, the same court cannot later try to also convict him for the more severe charge of aggravated assault for that same incident in a subsequent trial. Also, if this man had been acquitted of an aggravated assault charge, the court could not later try him again for simple assault on the same facts.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer. SQ Attorneys can be reached at (425) 359-3791 and/or (206) 441-0900.

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