“Double jeopardy” obviously not just a segment of a TV quiz, but what does it really mean? The concept comes from the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which promises that no one shall “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” The essence is that the state can’t prosecute someone for a crime, and then, if the person is acquitted, simply try again with a new prosecution.
While that may be the most basic aspect of the double jeopardy prohibition, the concept has several different facets: a prohibition on a second prosecution after conviction, a prohibition on a second prosecution after acquittal or certain types of mistrial, and multiple punishments for the same offense.
Many of the above situations are straightforward: it’s not hard to determine whether someone has already been acquitted or convicted of a particular crime. The more complicated issues arise when the person has been tried but a mistrial has resulted for one of any number of reasons. Here, the reason for, and circumstances of, the mistrial will determine whether or not the person can be re-prosecuted for the offense. The situations below are common instances where double jeopardy is at issue:
- Jury becomes deadlocked and is unable to agree on a verdict: retrial is permissible if mistrial was a manifest necessity
- The defendant is convicted and appeals, and the appellate court reverses the conviction: retrial is permissible unless the reversal was due to a finding that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction or that the prosecution had otherwise failed to prove the defendant’s guilt
If a defendant is charged with multiple crimes arising out of the same incident and the crimes involve closely-related conduct, such as burglary and trespassing, the double jeopardy doctrine may prohibit him from being sentenced on both counts. The test is whether each offense requires proof of something that the other does not; if this test is satisfied, sentences can be imposed for both crimes.
If you are convicted of two offenses and it would be a violation of the double jeopardy clause for the court to impose punishments for both those offenses (for example, because both crimes arose out of the same facts), the court will merge one conviction into the other and sentence you only once on the newly-merged charge.