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What Is Double Jeopardy?

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The Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause guarantees criminal defendants that they will not be tried again for the same offense. This safeguard applies to both federal and state authorities. Today on the blog, our legal team at the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella is sharing the history of this clause and how it benefits defendants.

The History of the Double Jeopardy Clause

With many citing the concept of double jeopardy originating between 300 – 400 B.C. in Greece—protecting those accused of crimes from harassment is a long-standing notion. While this clause has withstood the test of time, changes continued to be made throughout. For example, English courts once limited double jeopardy to capital offenses.

The clause within the fifth amendment of the Constitution reads, “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”. Originally only applicable to the federal government, it is now extended to the states.

How Does Double Jeopardy Benefit Defendants?

Double jeopardy isn’t triggered just by having charges filed against you. For this clause to apply, the defendant must be placed in a state of “jeopardy” which typically begins when the jury is sworn in or when the first witness testimony occurs in a bench trial. This state ends when the case does—either through the jury reaching a verdict, coming to a settlement, or the judge entering a ruling.

Double jeopardy benefits defendants by:

  • Protecting them from multiple punishments for the same crime
  • Guarding defendants from government overreach
  • Avoiding multiple prosecutions which can rack up a financial and emotional toll

What Is the Dual Sovereign Doctrine?

While double jeopardy ensures that a person cannot be prosecuted more than once for the same crime, two different sovereign governments can prosecute for the same offense. This is known as the dual sovereign doctrine. The Supreme Court states “[W]here there are two sovereigns, there are two laws, and two ‘offenses,’”. This is true even if the statutes contain similar, or even identical, language. For example, if someone is charged with drug trafficking in multiple states, convictions and punishments can be issued in each state the offense occurred as well as federally.

Something to keep in mind is that double jeopardy only protects defendants against multiple attempts at criminal prosecution. This means that you can face both criminal and civil penalties for the same event if applicable.

Criminal Defense Attorneys Committed to Protecting Your Rights

At the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella, we work tirelessly to safeguard the rights of our clients. Our skilled legal team has over 20 years of experience in criminal defense—building strong cases to fight for favorable outcomes. Whether you have been accused of a felony or misdemeanor in Wisconsin, our attorneys are here to help.

To speak with one of our Milwaukee attorneys, call us at (414) 882-8382 or fill out our online contact form.