The Fifth Amendment has a clause protecting against being prosecuted a second time following an acquittal or a plea bargain for a crime, or, essentially, more than one punishment for the same offense. But there is a caveat here: state and federal governments may, indeed, prosecute separately for the same crime, and even two different state governments could prosecute for a single offense if both have jurisdiction in the case.
Civil and Criminal Trials
The Double Jeopardy Clause originally applied only to federal cases, but later was incorporated into state laws, as well. While a criminal trial and associated penalties cannot be held for the same act or omission, the Supreme Court has held that Congress may allow both civil and criminal sanctions to be handed down for the same offense. In other words, one may be tried criminally for a particular offense, only to later face civil charges in a separate trial based on the same actions. One well-known situation that illustrates this ability is the criminal murder trial of O.J. Simpson (found not guilty), followed by a civil trial for wrongful death seeking monetary damages later on (found guilty). While Simpson escaped prison time, he was ordered to pay over $33 million in damages after being found responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson (his ex-wife) and Ronald Goldman. Even after being found guilty in the civil trial, Simpson could not be retried criminally for the same offense under double jeopardy protections.
What Constitutes the Same Offense?
To determine whether the same offense is being charged, prosecutors must examine whether each offense charged has an element that isn’t encompassed in the other. Without that unique element, it would be considered double jeopardy. In the O.J. Simpson case, for example, because the elements of the case were unchanged, the case could not be retried in a criminal court.
At What Point is Jeopardy Attached?
Jeopardy is attached when:
- The first witness is sworn in in a district court;
- When a jury is empaneled and sworn in a jury trial;
- When the first evidence is heard in a trial with no jury;
- When a judge accepts a guilty plea.
In the Simpson case, the defendant enjoyed double jeopardy protections as soon as the jury was sworn in because he had a jury trial. Any other legal problems the Las Vegas resident has had have been completely unrelated to the slayings of his ex-wife and Goldman.
A Vigorous Defense
Regardless of the criminal charges you are facing, the experienced Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at Lobo Law are determined to fight for the best possible outcomes for you. To discuss, schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.