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Fifth Amendment

Double Jeopardy Clause

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits state and federal governments from reprosecuting for the same offense a defendant who has already been acquitted or convicted. It also prevents state and federal governments from imposing more than one punishment for the same offense.

For more than a century, courts have wrestled with the question of what constitutes an acquittal such that a person has already been placed in jeopardy for a particular offense. However, all courts agree that the Double Jeopardy Clause applies only to legal proceedings brought by state and federal governments in criminal court. It does not apply to legal proceedings instituted by purely private individuals in civil court.

The U.S. legal system has two primary divisions, criminal and civil. Criminal actions are designed to punish individuals for wrongdoing against the public order. Civil actions are designed to compensate victims with money damages for injuries suffered at the hands of another. An individual who has been acquitted in criminal court of murder can, without violating the Double Jeopardy Clause, be required in civil court to pay money damages to the family of a victim. Thus, the successive criminal and civil trials of O. J. SIMPSON, regarding the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, did not constitute double jeopardy.

The Fifth Amendment's prohibition against double jeopardy is rooted in Anglo-Saxon JURISPRUDENCE. Yet, in England, the Crown sometimes ignored the right against double jeopardy. In certain important cases where an acquittal undermined royal interests, the defendant was tried again in a different manner or by a different court. The protection against double jeopardy was also extremely narrow under ENGLISH LAW. It applied only to capital crimes, in which the defendant would be subject to the death penalty if convicted. It did not apply to lesser offenses such as noncapital felonies and misdemeanors.

Massachusetts was the first colony that recognized a right against double jeopardy. Its colonial charter provided, "No man shall be twise [sic] sentenced by Civil Justice for one and the same Crime, offence, or Trespasse" (as quoted in United States v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435, 109 S. Ct. 1892, 104 L. Ed. 2d 487 [1989]). This charter, which served as a model for several other colonies, expanded the protection against double jeopardy to all crimes and offenses, not just capital felonies. Nonetheless, when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, the constitutions of only two states expressly afforded double jeopardy protection. Thus, when JAMES MADISON submitted his proposal for the Fifth Amendment to Congress, he wanted to be sure that the right against double jeopardy would not be abused by the government, as it had been in England, or altogether forgotten, as it had been in the constitutions of eleven states.

Although Congress and the state ratifying conventions said very little about the Fifth Amendment's Double Jeopardy Clause, the U.S. Supreme Court has identified several concerns that the Framers were trying to address when they drafted it: (1) preventing the government from employing its superior resources to wear down and erroneously convict innocent persons; (2) protecting individuals from the financial, emotional, and social consequences of successive prosecutions; (3) preserving the finality and integrity of criminal proceedings, which would be compromised were the state allowed to arbitrarily ignore unsatisfactory outcomes; (4) restricting prosecutorial discretion over the charging process; and (5) eliminating judicial discretion to impose cumulative punishments not authorized by the legislature.

Additional topics

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