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What Does Double Jeopardy Mean in Legal Terms?

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

What Does Double Jeopardy Mean in Legal Terms?

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Double Jeopardy in the courtroom is an interesting idea that almost everyone has heard about on TV or at the movies. The framers of the U.S. Constitution wrote a Double Jeopardy clause in the Fifth Amendment to prevent a government from prosecuting or punishing an individual more than once. Jeopardy in the law describes the risk that’s brought by the criminal justice system. Double Jeopardy is intended to protect the defendant from:

  • Prosecution for an offense (the same offense) after acquittal
  • Prosecution for an offense (the same offense) after conviction
  • Multiple punishments for an offense (the same offense)

When a defendant faces any of the above scenarios, he or she may use the Double Jeopardy defense as a protective shield.

If you are facing criminal charges in the state of Texas, you should contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. Attorney Greg Tsioros is ready to fight for you. Contact his office today and get the help you need.

There are instances when the Double Jeopardy shield is available. For instance, when a jury acquits the defendant and the state prosecutors bring charges a second time, he or she may use Double Jeopardy if the government hasn’t obtained new evidence of his or her guilt after the first trial. In certain scenarios, double jeopardy bars punishment. If a judge attempts to re-sentence the individual when he or she has previously served required punishment for the crime, the Double Jeopardy clause may apply.

Quite often, it’s unclear whether Double Jeopardy applies to a certain case. Specific legal principals are used to guide the courts in making a determination. If you have questions about legal jeopardy and Double Jeopardy, contact an experienced attorney to discuss your case.

State Government and Double Jeopardy

Most states also offer the same Double Jeopardy guarantee to defendants appearing in state courts. If a state doesn’t expressly guarantee individuals with the right in the state constitution, the Bill of Rights through the doctrine of incorporation still applies to both state and local government. For that reason, the criminal defendant is protected against double jeopardy from the state.

Double Jeopardy protection is important for several reasons at the state level:

  • The defendant is protected from the government’s use of superior resources to tire and improperly convict an innocent person.
  • The defendant is protected from financial, social, and emotional consequences of multiple prosecutions.
  • The criminal proceeding’s integrity and finality are preserved. The legal process would be compromised if the state prosecution could ignore the rendered verdict.
  • The defendant is protected from unrestricted prosecutorial discretion.
  • The law eliminates judicial discretion in the imposition of punishments that aren’t prohibited by state law.

Most importantly, the state courts may provide additional protection to the defendant than the Fifth Amendment. The defendant can’t receive less protection than the rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution. Specific tests are used to determine Double Jeopardy in Texas.

Criminal Proceedings Only

Double Jeopardy isn’t used in administrative or civil proceedings because it applies to criminal cases only. For instance, if the defendant is found guilty in criminal court, he or she isn’t immune from damages in a civil lawsuit. Along these lines, the Department of Motor Vehicles has the right to suspend or revoke a defendant’s driver’s license for the same actions that lead to his or her criminal conviction. If the defendant is charged with drunk driving, it’s common for the defendant to face criminal charges and loss of driving privileges from the DMV.

Only some criminal cases may qualify for Double Jeopardy protection. If a certain proceeding doesn’t place the defendant in legal jeopardy, then it’s possible for prosecutors to file subsequent proceedings against him or her. The Fifth Amendment says that Double Jeopardy protections extend to only those proceedings that threaten life or limb. The Supreme Court writes that Double Jeopardy isn’t limited to capital crimes: it extends to felonies, misdemeanors, or juvenile delinquency adjudications as well.

Questions of when jeopardy attaches or begins are as important as an understanding of those proceedings that are subject to Double Jeopardy. The question is important because if the government takes action before jeopardy begins, such as when it dismisses an indictment, it won’t prevent subsequent proceedings against the same defendant for the same offense. When jeopardy begins, the complete array of protections of the Fifth Amendment will apply. In a jury trial, jeopardy begins at the time the jurors are sworn. In a criminal case tried without a jury, jeopardy begins with the swearing in of the first witness. If the defendant makes a plea agreement, jeopardy doesn’t begin until when and if the court accepts his or her plea.

When the protection of Double Jeopardy ends is just as important as when it begins, but the determination may be more complex. When jeopardy ends, the government prosecutor can’t detail the defendant for more court proceedings involving the same matter. Jeopardy may terminate in the following instances:

  1. After the jury renders an acquittal verdict
  2. After the trial is dismissed
  3. After the court declares a mistrial
  4. On an appeal after a conviction

The question of “same offense” is an important consideration. Both federal and state courts use tests to discern if the same facts applying to the case have been litigated, if the actual evidence has been presented, if the range of criminal acts are part of the same transaction, or if the defendant is being retried for the same conduct. If you or a loved one is facing a serious criminal charge in Houston or throughout Texas, you need experienced representation.

Case Examples

In Walker v. Texas (U.S. SUP. CT.), the court was asked to consider the Double Jeopardy clause. Electrician Gary Walker was investigated regarding potential corruption in his position at the Beaumont Independent School District (Texas). The U.S. Attorney’s Office brought a 37-count indictment against the defendant, charging him with using a business to defraud the district. The case was tried in federal court.

A deadlocked jury resulted in granting a mistrial. Shortly afterward, the Texas District Attorney charged the defendant with six counts of money laundering and fraud. These charges overlapped with original charges brought by the federal government. Walker claimed these new charges violated his Fifth Amendment rights under the Double Jeopardy clause.

Texas responded by invoking the “dual sovereignty exception” to protection afforded by the Double Jeopardy clause because it argued that a second proceeding of the original (same offense) was performed by a different sovereign. Walker’s writs of habeas corpus were denied. The Texas Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Texas state government. Walker then asked the Supreme Court to review the case. The court ultimately denied the defendant’s petition for certiorari in April 2017.

Protection Under the Double Jeopardy Clause

The underlying concept of Double Jeopardy is that the state—with its substantial resources and sovereign power—shouldn’t be allowed to repeatedly attempt to convict a person for a single alleged offense. Doing so subjects him or her to an expensive and embarrassing ordeal and compels him or her to live in a constant state of insecurity and anxiety. Multiple proceedings enhance the risk that the innocent defendant may be convicted of the crime. A trial court judgment of acquittal or a jury verdict is considered a bar to prevent subsequent prospection of the same criminal offense, even if it seems that an acquittal was derived from an erroneous foundation.

If you face serious criminal charges, it’s important to mount a vigorous defense as soon as possible to protect your rights. The Law Office of Greg Tsioros in Houston provides experience and skill to clients accused of crimes in Texas.

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