According to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, “No person shall… be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb….” Being “twice put in jeopardy” — or “double jeopardy” means being tried or punished twice for the same offense. So, for example, if a defendant receives a state criminal conviction for violent crimes he or she committed in Florida, the defendant could assert a double jeopardy defense if the state attempts retrial on the same crimes.
Double jeopardy has been a cornerstone of federal since the U.S. Constitution was ratified. However, this Fifth Amendment safeguard has only been guaranteed under state law for about half a century. Some states may have already had laws or constitutional provisions offering citizens protection from double jeopardy. But in 1969, the United States Supreme Court decision in Benton v. Maryland held that Fifth Amendment protections extended to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment. In fact, Benton extends all the guarantees in the Bill of Rights (Amendments I through X) to state governments.
While the constitutional protections against double jeopardy look great on paper, they are much narrower in practice – and vary a little bit from state to state. For instance, if a defendant commits a crime in Florida, such as distribution of narcotics, that violates both state and federal law, double jeopardy would not protect the defendant from being prosecuted by both the State of Florida and the United States government.
This is called the “dual sovereignty” doctrine. So, what double jeopardy actually protects against is a second prosecution for the same crime by the same government. It does not protect against a civil lawsuit for the crime (think O.J. Simpson) nor does it protect defendants from being charged with multiple crimes for the same incident, like DUI and vehicular homicide for the same car wreck. To ensure that all of a defendant’s constitutional rights are protected, they should contact a experienced criminal defense lawyer right away.