Double jeopardy is not just the name of a movie, it's an actual legal concept representing a guaranteed right by the Constitution. This facet of criminal law is often misunderstood, so read on for a simplified explanation of what the uniquely American legal provision of double jeopardy really means:

Our Constitution

Some of our time-honored laws came about as a result of our forefather's efforts to ensure that we had a justice system that was fairer than that of other countries. The concept of double jeopardy gives citizens the right to stand trial and for the result of that trial to be final. In other words, you cannot be repeatedly tried for the same offense just because the results were not acceptable to the state. The actual legal concept may be found in our Constitution's Fifth Amendment.

What is Meant by Jeopardy?

This word can mean several things, but in this case, it really can be boiled down to mean "risk", or the risk of being criminally prosecuted. Among other things, this protection extends to the following guarantees:

  • If you have been acquitted of a crime, you cannot be tried for that same offense again.
  • If you have been convicted of a crime, you cannot be tried for that same offense again.
  • If you have been sentenced for a crime, you cannot face repeated sentencing for the same crime.

Understanding Venues

There is an interesting and notable exception to the protection that double jeopardy affords citizens, and that concerns the court venue. Again, the word venue can be construed several ways, but in this case, it refers to the type of court case. Double jeopardy only applies to cases tried in criminal courts and the justice system provides for several types of court proceedings, civil and criminal among them. This means that the very same (or very similar) charge can be prosecuted in both a criminal court and in a civil court.

Almost everyone remembers the case of O.J. Simpson, who was tried and found not guilty in criminal court of the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. He cannot face trial again for those charges, but he can, and did, face civil charges for those murders. He was convicted of wrongful death and money damages were awarded to the family members who brought the case. Two different courts mean that there is no double jeopardy at play. Civil law, however, provides only monetary damages and no other punishment for the convicted.

Speak to your criminal defense lawyer to learn more about double jeopardy and more.