What Is Double Jeopardy?

Do you know what double jeopardy is? It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if most people said double jeopardy was the second round of questions in the famous trivia game show hosted by Alex Trebek. While they wouldn’t be incorrect, the concept of double jeopardy in the legal context means something completely different. Double jeopardy refers to the idea of being tried for a crime but later put on trial again for the same crime.

Protections Under the Fifth Amendment

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the source of many individual rights. The text of the amendment reads:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” (emphasis added)

All ten amendments in the original Bill of Rights are ways of guaranteeing individual freedoms by restricting government power and authority. The Fifth Amendment covers rights and procedures that are important for promoting justice in criminal proceedings, which many courts consider essential components of due process:

  • The Grand Jury Clause
  • The Double Jeopardy Clause
  • The Self Incrimination Clause
  • The Due Process Clause
  • The Takings Clause.

What Does “Same Offense” Mean?

The Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase “same offense” to mean crimes where the same evidence was necessary for proving both offenses. For example, the Double Jeopardy Clause can prevent someone from undergoing separate criminal proceedings for a crime involving multiple victims. Imagine that the defendant was accused of assaulting several people at a party, but acquitted in a trial for assaulting only one of the victims because the jury believed the defendant’s alibi. The government cannot subsequently charge them for assaulting a different victim from the party.

However, if the defendant’s alleged conduct is considered to be a crime in different jurisdictions—such as crimes under both federal and state law—the Double Jeopardy Clause doesn’t apply. This is because courts hold that sovereign states have an interest in prosecuting offenses they prohibit under their own laws—a concept known as the “separate sovereigns” doctrine.

The Separate Sovereigns Doctrine and Gamble v. United States

This past June, the U.S. Supreme Court made a definitive ruling about the application of the separate sovereigns doctrine in Gamble v. United States. In the Gamble case, the defendant was tried and sentenced under the laws of Alabama for possessing a gun as a convicted felon. The federal government subsequently decided to prosecute the defendant under federal law as well.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the separate sovereigns doctrine, reasoning that sovereign states have distinct sets of laws. Thus, even though both states prohibit the same conduct as a crime, those prohibitions are not the “same offence” under the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich Is Dedicated to Protecting Your Rights

If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, you should seek legal representation from an attorney at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich. With years of experience in matters ranging from family law to criminal defense, you can count on our team of skilled lawyers to zealously advocate for the protection of your constitutional due process rights.

To schedule an appointment for a consultation about your case, call our office at (951) 687-6003 or contact us online today.


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