The protections and limits of a double jeopardy defense

On Behalf of | Jul 1, 2022 | Federal Crimes

In criminal defense cases, especially those in which federal and state laws overlap, New Yorkers who are facing multiple charges of alleged criminal conduct may find protections in the U.S. Constitution.

The Fifth Amendment states that no one can be tried for the same offense twice. Although the double jeopardy clause was initially intended for federal cases, it is now applicable at the state level through the doctrine of incorporation. 

The concept of double jeopardy is important, as it achieves several purposes:   

  • Protects the civil liberties of citizens by limiting repeated governmental harassment of individuals. 
  • Puts limits on prosecutorial power. 
  • Preserves the finality of a criminal proceeding. 

State courts have interpreted this clause in widely different ways so as not to conflict with Supreme Court rulings. While criminal defense teams frequently make use of this clause, especially in cases involving narcotics, racketeering and fraud charges, it is important to discover where it is appropriate and where it will not apply.  

Where double jeopardy begins and where it ends

Jeopardy begins, or attaches, once a trial starts. If the trial ends in acquittal, the prosecution cannot retry the individual for the same offense. But if the trial ends in a mistrial, or if the prosecution dismisses the indictment before the trial begins, there is no double jeopardy, and the government can try the case again. 

Double jeopardy protects the accused when they face successive prosecutions for the same crime. This clause also bars the use of the same evidence for a related crime or the submission of new evidence for a new trial on old charges.

If the defendant is facing different charges for a different crime allegedly committed in the same incident, however, double jeopardy would not apply.   

Dual sovereignty and the limits of double jeopardy protections

A recent Supreme Court ruling has highlighted the limits of the double jeopardy defense when it concerns the prosecution of the same crime by two sovereign entities. In Denezpi v. the United States, the court, in this case, ruled that the two sovereign nations, Ute Mountain Utes and the United States, may enforce separate laws in the same nation’s courts by the same nation’s courts.

Fortunately for New York residents who are facing multiple charges and lengthy trials, the state’s constitution, backed by court rulings affirming double jeopardy protections, can shield individuals who are building a defense against multiple prosecutions. It is important to note, however, that this clause does not prohibit subsequent or coinciding civil claims from proceeding.