One of the key points that our Jacksonville criminal defense attorney emphasizes to clients is their constitutional rights, including the Fifth Amendment, which states that a person cannot be placed in double jeopardy or tried more than once for the same offense. However, the logistics of what double jeopardy looks like can be confusing.
A Definition of Double Jeopardy
Double jeopardy means that a person is put at risk again from prosecution. The writers of the Constitution determined that a person cannot be punished again for the same crime. Technically, prohibitions against double jeopardy include:
- Re-prosecuting a person for the same crime after he or she was acquitted
- Re-prosecuting a person for the same crime after he or she was convicted and
- Punishing a person for the same crime more than once.
Even when the prosecution finds additional evidence of a defendant’s guilt after a trial, the state or district attorney cannot prosecute the defendant again. In addition, a judge cannot sentence a person again when he or she already completed a sentence for the offense in question. However, the courts have implemented specific guidelines about when double jeopardy applies.
Administrative and civil proceedings are exempt from double jeopardy as it only applies to criminal law. For example, if someone is convicted of a crime, he or she might still be exposed to a civil case from the crime victims. A classic example of this was when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges but was found liable in a civil case. In addition, the Department of Motor Vehicles has the right to take action, such as suspend or revoke a driver’s license in a criminal case. For this reason, in a drunk driving case, the courts and the DMV will impose separate sanctions.
Attachment of Jeopardy
The case must progress beyond a certain point in order for double jeopardy to apply. Just because the prosecution re-files criminal charges does not mean that the person is in jeopardy. In cases before a judge, attachment happens when the first witness takes the stand. In jury trials, attachment happens when the jury is sworn in.
Double Jeopardy for the Same Crime
While you can only be prosecuted once for the same offense, you can be prosecuted separately for other related offenses. For example, if a defendant wins an acquittal for murder, he or she might still be prosecuted for assault with a deadly weapon, a separate charge.
In addition, the double jeopardy guarantee only applies in cases in the same jurisdiction. The state and the federal government can both prosecute a person for the same offense, such as transportation of marijuana over a certain amount. Another example is the state prosecution of the police officers in the Rodney King beating in California. While the state lost its case, the federal government picked up the case when they claimed that King’s civil rights were violated. Double jeopardy did not apply because two different jurisdictions, also labeled sovereigns, acted. In the 2013 case when George Zimmerman was acquitted of the death of Trayvon Martin, the public wanted the federal government to pursue the case. However, the feds declined, likely because the question of Zimmerman’s racial animosity was in question.
Separate Punishments Stemming from the Same Crime
Prosecutors sometimes file numerous charges against a person for the same offenses. For example, the defendant might face charges for assault and assault with a deadly weapon for using a knife in the attack. However, if the defendant is convicted of both offenses, he or she can only be sentenced for the more serious offense or assault with a knife in this case.
The Question of Fairness
If double jeopardy is a question in a case during an appeal, the appellate court will consider how it applies on a case-by-case basis. They look at the bottom line regarding fairness, depending on the situation.
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Our Jacksonville criminal attorney at Canan Law can clarify if double jeopardy is a factor in your case.