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Understanding double jeopardy and its exceptions 

Double jeopardy is an important protection to understand. Under the Fifth Amendment, an individual cannot be tried twice for the same crime. This means that if you went to trial and were acquitted, the prosecution can’t try the same case against you again. It also means that you can’t be punished twice for the same crime.

It is worth noting that double jeopardy protections don’t apply to all charges; the charges must be criminal. Criminal charges are charges brought against you by the state—not by a plaintiff—and the penalties for such charges typically involve a loss of liberty (probation, suspension, jail or prison time).

Today we discuss a few circumstances under which double jeopardy protections do not apply:

  • A defendant can be charged with two identical but separate crimes. If, for example, a defendant is acquitted of selling drugs to Tim on October 22, the defendant can still be tried for selling drugs to Paul on October 22. These incidents are viewed as separate crimes, so double jeopardy does not apply.
  • As noted above, double jeopardy only applies to criminal cases. However, if a defendant is tried for a criminal case, double jeopardy does not protect them from also being tried for a related offense in civil court. For instance, if the state brings murder charges against a defendant, the family of the victim may also sue the defendant for punitive damages.
  • Double jeopardy does not prevent multiple charges for the same crime from different jurisdictions. If a crime violated the laws of multiple states, then each state may press charges. Likewise, if a crime violated both state and federal law, then it would be allowable to have two criminal suits for the same crime.

Double jeopardy is an important element of criminal law that works to protect the rights of the defendant.

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