Double Jeopardy: The Basics

One of the most critical concepts in the field of criminal law is the prohibition against double jeopardy. This crucial idea, however, is not always well understood by the public. It you are ever faced with a situation where criminal charges have been brought against you, being familiar with this idea could potentially be important. This article takes a closer look at this vital legal concept. 

How It Works 

Double jeopardy means that the government may not prosecute you twice for a specific criminal act. For example, if you are found innocent of a particular criminal act, you may not be prosecuted again for that specific crime, even if circumstances change. The prosecution might find evidence against you after the acquittal, for instance, but it's too late. They are still prohibited from trying you again, even if the new evidence proves that you are guilty. 

Key Exceptions 

Various exceptions exist under which the prosecutor may retry a criminal defendant. One of the most important is when a mistrial occurs. The government often has the right to try a defendant again when a mistrial is declared. This depends on various circumstances, such whether a defendant agrees to the mistrial or it occurs over their objections. 

Also, a prosecutor may be able to try a defendant after a case is dismissed. Once again, the circumstances that cause the dismissal determine whether double jeopardy applies. For example, if a case is dismissed for lack of evidence before it reaches a jury, the prosecutor may retry at a later date if more evidence is discovered. But if a case is dismissed for lack of evidence after a jury is chosen, double jeopardy almost always applies. 

Separate Sovereigns 

Another important point to keep in mind is that double jeopardy does not apply to both the state government and the federal government regarding the same case. For example, if you were acquitted by a jury in a case brought by the state of Florida, that does not prevent the federal government from bringing their own charges in the case. This is because state governments and the federal government are "separate sovereigns" according to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The concept of double jeopardy is both potentially helpful to criminal defendants and extremely complex. In some instances, it might be the difference between being able to go free or facing another trial. For more information about this topic, contact a local defense attorney, such as Sam Douglas Young Attorney at Law.