What is Double Jeopardy?

In criminal law, “double jeopardy” refers to protections that prohibits the government to not prosecute someone in criminal court more than once for the same offense. Double jeopardy protects defendants from the constant threat of prosecution after a court decides a case. Double jeopardy has a long history in criminal law. It is based on the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

There are multiple reasons for double jeopardy’s existence in criminal law. As the U.S. Supreme Court noted, the “underlying idea” of double jeopardy is as follows:

“[T]hat the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty.”

Additionally, the double jeopardy clause gives due deference to a jury’s verdict. It also forces prosecutors to bring all relevant charges against a defendant. It, thus, requires them to review and prosecute a case competently.

This article begins by briefly describing the prohibition against double jeopardy. Then, it discusses why double jeopardy exists in criminal proceedings. Contact a criminal defense attorney if you have further questions about double jeopardy.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that no criminal defendant shall “be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” for the same criminal offense. This means the government cannot prosecute a criminal defendant again after a case concludes. A case typically ends in acquittal or conviction. It also prevents the government from imposing multiple punishments for lesser-included offenses.

The Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy only applies to federal criminal cases. The Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause applies this protection to state courts. Thus, you may assert a double jeopardy defense whether your criminal case is in state or federal court.

Double jeopardy applies to all criminal cases, including felonies and misdemeanors. The Fifth Amendment constitutional right against a second prosecution does not apply to civil cases.

However, the double jeopardy rule is not absolute. For example, the court may allow a second state or federal prosecution if the first trial results in a mistrial. The court may allow a retrial on the same facts in such instances.

Jeopardy attaches once the court swears in the jury in a jury trial. Jeopardy typically attaches in a bench trial when the court swears in the first witness.

Under federal law, every criminal defendant can appeal the district court’s verdict. If the appellate court determines the trial court had insufficient evidence to convict the defendant, they may reverse the conviction. If this occurs, the conviction is treated as an acquittal. In such a situation, double jeopardy applies. This means the government cannot prosecute the defendant a second time.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge (gun related or otherwise), 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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