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A brief explanation of double jeopardy

Many aspects of criminal law are set up to protect those accused of crimes from receiving overly harsh or unfair sentences, as well as to protect innocent people from the same. As pointed out by Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute, one of these aspects is an often-misunderstood Fifth Amendment clause called double jeopardy, which keeps a person from being prosecuted more than once for the same crime, in most instances.

What are the benefits of double jeopardy for a potential defendant? This law serves to keep the government from harassing and wrongfully convicting innocent citizens. It prevents multiple punishments for the same charge. Double jeopardy also keeps a person from being prosecuted again after being acquitted in a criminal matter.

For example, a person may have been accused of a robbery and brought to trial. Because of lack of evidence, the defendant could be acquitted of the crime. If evidence turns up later on that may implicate the former defendant in the robbery, double jeopardy should prevent him or her from being tried again for that particular crime. Double jeopardy may also, in some cases, prevent a person from a retrial if there was a misuse of evidence, a hung jury or other complications that led to a case dismissal.

ABC News reported on one case in which double jeopardy turned out in the favor of a man who was acquitted in the murder of his co-worker. He contacted authorities later and confessed to committing the murder, but because of double jeopardy, he could not be tried again for the crime.

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