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What is Double Jeopardy?

Imagine being wrongfully accused of murder and found innocent by a jury of your peers, to only be retried and found guilty of the same offense. The double jeopardy clause protects each person from standing trial for the same crime twice.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This clause is a right that protects each person in this country, and if you live in Maricopa County and feel that you are being prosecuted for the same offense twice, you should call a highly rated Phoenix Criminal Attorney for a free consultation. To understand the complex legality of double jeopardy you must know why this is a constitutional right, when double jeopardy applies, when it does not apply, what constitutes the same offense.

A criminal trial can take months, or even years to reach a verdict. The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment protects people from the crippling psychological, physical, and monetary toll of successive trials. The government has endless resources at its disposal that will always outlast a citizen.

This clause limits the government's power to prosecute a defendant until they get a favorable ruling. This puts pressure on the prosecution to present their best case on the first attempt. Most importantly, the double jeopardy clause enforces the ruling of the judge and jury, which ultimately upholds the court’s authority.

Double jeopardy applies to cases when the defendant is placed in jeopardy. The term jeopardy refers to standing trial and potentially receiving a court court-ordered punishment. This clause attaches to a case once the jury is sworn in and the proceedings are underway.

The Fifth Amendment applies to felonies, misdemeanors, and even juvenile delinquency judgements. Essentially, if you are tried for a crime and a judgement is levied you cannot be tried for that crime a second time.  

Double jeopardy does not apply to every legal proceeding. Civil suits and administrative proceedings are not protected by double jeopardy, because civil trials typically seek monetary compensation and there is no threat of losing months of your life behind bars.

This means that a defendant who is found to be not guilty can still be sued in civil court and forced to pay monetary fees for the crime. The most popular case is O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown, and Ronald Goldman. The families of the victims successfully sued Simpson three years later and were awarded $33 million in compensation.

The major stipulation in this clause is that a person cannot be charged with the same crime twice. This means that if you're charged with selling drugs you can’t be prosecuted twice for the same drug offense, but what about if you’re arrested on two charges - drugs, and an illegal handgun? Of course, the court would file charges related to the illegal firearm, and if the defendant is found not guilty, the court can then try the defendant separately for the drug offense. This prohibits serious criminals from escaping prison time because of a technicality.   

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