Double Jeopardy Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Double Jeopardy, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Double Jeopardy?

n. Trying someone a second time for an offense which he/she was previously acquitted. Despite new incriminating evidence being discovered, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits double jeopardy. Rarely, a person can be tried for a different crime even if some of the facts that were used in the trial in which they were acquitted are used in the second trial. For example: using the Federal Civil Rights Act to charge a person with violation of another’s civil rights by killing him, after a state murder case had resulted in an acquittal, as happened in the 1994 trials for the deaths of civil rights activists and freedom riders Andrew Goldman, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Viola Liuzzo, that occurred thirty years earlier.

History and Meaning of Double Jeopardy

Double jeopardy is a legal term that refers to the prosecution of an individual for the same offense twice. This is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which ensures protection against self-incrimination and double jeopardy. The right against double jeopardy is often cited in popular culture, legal dramas, and court cases, and is a fundamental principle of the American legal system.

The origins of the right against double jeopardy date back to ancient Greece and Rome. It was incorporated into English common law during the Middle Ages, and was eventually included in the United States Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights. This constitutional right ensures that individuals cannot be punished for the same offense twice and protects against abusive and tyrannical prosecution.

Examples of Double Jeopardy

  1. A defendant is acquitted of a murder charge but is later charged again for the same murder based on newly discovered evidence. This would violate the defendant's right against double jeopardy and is prohibited by law.

  2. A person is tried for assault and battery in state court and is acquitted. The same person cannot be tried again for the same assault and battery in federal court, since it would be considered double jeopardy.

  3. A defendant is found guilty of a lesser-included offense, such as manslaughter, and cannot be retried for the more serious offense, such as murder, since it would fall under the right against double jeopardy.

Legal Terms Similar to Double Jeopardy

  1. Self-incrimination: A legal principle that prevents an individual from being compelled to incriminate oneself or testify against oneself.

  2. Due process: The protection of an individual's legal rights based on the principles of fundamental fairness and justice before the law.

  3. Statute of limitations: The time limit imposed by law for bringing a lawsuit or criminal charges based on a particular event or offense.