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Reasons for Double Jeopardy Protection

"Double Jeopardy" refers to Constitutional protections that make sure that someone can't be prosecuted in criminal court more than once for the same offense. Double jeopardy has a long history in law and here are five reasons that are often cited as being its basis.

The Government's Resources Could Lead to Endless Prosecutions

Along with many of the Bill of Rights Amendments to the Constitution the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment is designed to protect citizens from their government. In the case of criminal prosecutions, the government generally has greater power and assets at its disposal than a typical defendant. Double jeopardy keeps the government from employing its superior resources to harass a citizen with multiple proceedings and trials for the same act. This is particularly true when a jury has found a defendant not guilty by a jury.

Protection From the Financial, Emotional, and Social Toll of Successive Prosecutions

Facing criminal charges is no picnic, especially when your “life or limb” is on the line, as the Fifth Amendment reads. Fighting a criminal prosecution can be expensive, psychologically damaging, and stigmatizing. Just knowing someone has been charged with a crime changes how we think of him or her, their job prospects, and more. Double jeopardy recognizes the strain one criminal trial can cause, and prevents further prosecutions for the same offense.

Make Judges' and Juries' Decisions Count

If a jury were to acquit a criminal defendant and prosecutors were able to begin the same case all over again, this would undercut that jury’s verdict entirely. The same can be said for “court” trials where a judge determines guilt. While a defendant may appeal his or her conviction on certain legal grounds, prosecutors get one bite at the apple, as they say.

Limits on Prosecutors' Power to Charge Individuals

Prosecutors' power to decide what charges to bring against a defendant often goes unnoticed. However, the reality is that with the charging decision alone, a prosecutor can have a huge amount of influence over a criminal case and a defendant's life. Any plea deals and penalties will be based on the charges brought. However, limiting prosecutors to one shot at a prosecution, in most cases, encourages wise decision-making about the charges to bring in each case.

Eliminates Judicial Discretion to Impose Multiple Punishments for a Single Crime

The theory that you should only be punished once for a crime goes hand-in-hand with double jeopardy. The legislature normally outlines what punishments are carried by each crime. The Fifth Amendment forbids judges from applying multiple punishments to the same criminal action. However, it should be noted that certain actions or courses of action (even within a short time frame) can result in a slew of offenses that can be charged, and punished, separately. This area of law can be extremely complicated, and a local attorney specializing in criminal law may be able to provide more specific information.

Additional Resources

Double jeopardy protections can be confusing, especially figuring out when it applies, when it begins, and when it ends. If you have a criminal case and would like assistance, you can meet with a criminal attorney to discuss your case. You can also visit FindLaw’s criminal law section for more general information.

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