Last week, we covered some basics about the fifth amendment. Namely, we answered, “What does plead the fifth mean?” This week we’re covering another right protected by the fifth amendment: protection from double jeopardy. We’ll give a basic definition of double jeopardy, cover some double jeopardy laws, and tell you other ways you can protect your rights.
First, what does double jeopardy mean? No, it has very little to do with the game show. Double jeopardy protection means that if you are acquitted or convicted of a crime, you cannot be charged again for that same crime.
The Fifth Amendment puts it like this:
“No person shall be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
Since this is a right provided for in the United States Constitution, it holds throughout the country, and in every state. However, as with nearly every right, some exceptions apply. For example, we all have the right to free speech, but we cannot threaten someone’s life. The same holds true for the fifth amendment. What are these exceptions?
Double Jeopardy Laws
Some exceptions to the right against double jeopardy include:
- If the defendant bribed the judge.
- If the defendant is a member of the armed forces, they can be court-martialed.
- Mistrials in certain cases.
- If a federal court and a state court want to try someone for the same offense.
With the last example, let’s say someone kidnapped someone else. That could be considered a violation of both state and federal law. Therefore, the perpetrator could face both a federal and a state trial.
Another key exception in double jeopardy laws is if someone committed multiple offenses in the same act. For example, let’s say Bill allegedly sold heroin to Kevin at 123 Street Rd on December 1st, 2019. And he’s then acquitted. Bill cannot be tried for that allegation twice. However, let’s say new evidence points to Bill selling heroin to Fred at 123 Street Rd on December 1st, 2019. Bill can be tried for that crime because the law considers each a separate act.
Why Do We Have Double Jeopardy Laws?
Third, why do double jeopardy laws exist in the first place? In the past, unjust governments could keep trying someone for the same crime and with the same evidence but with a new judge or jury until that person faced conviction. Thankfully, the United States government considers this a violation of fundamental human rights.