What is Double Jeopardy in Criminal Cases
There are many protections afforded by the American judicial system, one of them being referred to as Double Jeopardy. This is a Constitutional protection that prevents an individual from being openly prosecuted in a criminal court more than once for the exact same charge. In other words, if a person has been acquitted of a crime once, he or she cannot be charged for that same crime again. The protection that Double Jeopardy entails is steeped in a long history of legal precedence, and there are several reasons that are commonly talked about when keeping this policy in place.
The Endless Reach of the Government
While the resources of the average individual are usually quite limited, the same cannot be said for the state or federal government. Because government agencies do tend to have almost limitless resources at their disposal should they choose to use them, this could result in an endless stream of prosecutions if double jeopardy was not in place. This protection is actually written into the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution specifically to protect individual citizens from the power of the government.
It is a commonly accepted assertion that the government has many more assets to use in a criminal prosecution than does an average defendant. Because of this, double jeopardy is meant to prevent the government from using those many assets to unduly subject a citizen to multiple court proceedings for the same act. This provision is particularly true when a jury has already found a defendant to be not guilty.
Protection From the Turmoil of Being Subjected to Multiple Prosecutions
There is no denying that a court case brings about certain financial, emotional, and social stressors that can negatively impact the defendant. This is particularly true in cases where a person must prove his or her true innocence. Because of this, double jeopardy effectively prevents an individual from having to go through this stress a second or third time. There is a physiological toll that comes from fighting a criminal prosecution. Beyond this, there is also a social stigma attached to any person that is forced to endure a criminal trial. This is why the protection in the Fifth Amendment is specifically in place, so individual are not subject to further prosecutions.
Court Decisions Should Count For Something
When a decision is handed down by a judge or jury, it should count for something. The entire judicial process would be cheapened if multiple prosecutions for the same offense were permitted to take place. This is yet another reason that double jeopardy has been put firmly in place. Juries would begin to feel that their voice really did not matter if the individual that they jus found to be innocent was found to be tried once again in criminal court. The same is said for trials where judges that determine innocence or guilt. While defendants may appeal a guilty verdict, prosecutors are simply not permitted to appeal a finding of not guilty. This is part of the judicial system where it is proclaimed that an individual is to be deemed innocent until proven guilty.
There Must Be Limits To the Power of the Prosecution
Prosecutors are given a great deal of power when it comes to determining what charges are brought against an individual. Those charges carry a great deal of weight when it comes to determining any possible plea agreement that is reached before trial. If a case is brought to trial, it is the merit of those charges alone that any possible penalties for a guilty verdict are considered. By limiting the prosecution to one only chance in trying a case, their power in bringing these charges is also effectively minimized. Double jeopardy is designed as a way to make the prosecution think very carefully about the charges that they levy against a defendant.
If you have any questions about your criminal defense, you will want to speak to a professional and experienced attorney right away. It is important to know your rights, particularly when it comes to instances of possible double jeopardy. The justice system is designed to protect you, so make sure that those protections remain in place.