Double Jeopardy

Another legal concept that is fairly well known is the protection against double jeopardy—that is, that an individual may not be tried twice for the same crime. While the idea may seem simple enough, much consideration has been given as to when jeopardy begins, when jeopardy ends and what constitutes the same offense.

The Basis of the Double Jeopardy Doctrine

Protection against double jeopardy is one of the oldest legal ideas in history, with roots dating as far back as the ancient Greeks. A fundamental consideration behind the double jeopardy doctrine is that of preventing the government from utilizing superior resources to beat down its citizens in court, retrying them endlessly and subjecting them to financial and emotional turmoil. The doctrine also protects the integrity of criminal trial proceedings and their outcomes by preventing arbitrary retrials.

What Constitutes the Same Offense?

Historically, one circumstance of criminal behavior could result in only one trial, even if multiple crimes were committed during the single circumstance. Current law tends to look at every individual criminal act that takes place during a single episode, and prosecutors generally charge suspects for these individual crimes. Therefore, it is possible for someone to undergo two separate trials for two separate crimes that took place during a single criminal incident.

Does a Retrial After a Mistrial Constitute Double Jeopardy?

Like most legal questions, the answer depends on the circumstances of the case at hand. Generally speaking, no—a retrial that is ordered after a mistrial does not constitute double jeopardy. However, if a mistrial is ordered without the defendant’s consent or over his or her objection, then a retrial may violate the double jeopardy doctrine. Likewise, if a mistrial resulted from an error on the part of the prosecution or the judiciary, then a retrial may constitute double jeopardy.

Double Jeopardy