Double jeopardy: Wikis


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Double jeopardy is a procedural defense that forbids a defendant from being tried twice for the same crime on the same set of facts. At common law a defendant may plead autrefois acquit or autrefois convict (a peremptory plea), meaning the defendant has been acquitted or convicted of the same offense.[1] If this issue is raised, evidence will be placed before the court, which will normally rule as a preliminary matter whether the plea is substantiated, and if it so finds, the projected trial will be prevented from proceeding. In many countries the guarantee against being "twice put in jeopardy" is a constitutional right; these include Canada, India, Israel, Mexico and the United States.



In contrast to other common law nations, Australian double jeopardy law has been held to extend to the prevention of prosecution for perjury following a previous acquittal where a finding of perjury would controvert the previous acquittal. This was confirmed in the case of R v Carroll, where the police found new evidence convincingly disproving Caroll's sworn alibi two decades after he had been acquitted of murder charges in the death of Ipswich child Deidre Kennedy, and successfully prosecuted him for perjury. Public outcry following the overturning of his conviction (for perjury) by the High Court has led to widespread calls for reform of the law along the lines of the UK legislation.

In December 2006, New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma introduced legislation to scrap substantial parts of the double jeopardy law in that state. Retrials of serious cases with a minimum sentence of twenty years or more are now possible, even when the original trial preceded the 2006 reform.[2] On 17 October 2006, the NSW Parliament passed legislation abolishing the rule against double jeopardy in cases where:

  • someone acquitted of a ‘life sentence offence’ (murder, violent gang rapes, large commercial supply or production of illegal drugs) where there is ‘fresh and compelling’ evidence of guilt;
  • someone acquitted of a ‘15 years or more sentence offence’ where the acquittal was tainted (by perjury, bribery or perversion of the course of justice); and,
  • someone acquitted in a judge-only trial or where a judge directed the jury to acquit.[3] This largely grew out of the case of Raymond John Carroll.[4]

South Australia currently is also in the process of reforming its laws which will see the principle of double jeopardy abolished for serious indictable offences.

On 18 October 2007, Queensland modified its double jeopardy laws to allow a retrial where fresh and compelling evidence becomes available after an acquittal for murder or a 'tainted acquittal' for a crime carrying a 25-year or more sentence. A 'tainted acquittal' requires a conviction for an administration of justice offence, such as perjury, that led to the original acquittal. Unlike reforms in the United Kingdom and New South Wales, this law does not have a retrospective effect, making its introduction less than fully appreciated by those who, over the years, have been advocating reform.

According to the University of New South Wales, the federal government is pushing hard for ‘reform’ of double jeopardy throughout Australia.[3]


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes provisions such as section 11(h) prohibiting double jeopardy. But often this prohibition applies only after the trial is finally concluded. In contrast to the laws of the United States, Canadian law allows the prosecution to appeal from an acquittal. If the acquittal is thrown out, the new trial is not considered to be double jeopardy because the first trial and its judgment would have been annulled. In rare circumstances, a court of appeal might also substitute a conviction for an acquittal. This is not considered to be double jeopardy either - in this case the appeal and subsequent conviction are deemed to be a continuation of the original trial.

For an appeal from an acquittal to be successful, the Supreme Court of Canada requires that the Crown show an error in law was made during the trial and that the error contributed to the verdict. It has been suggested that this test is unfairly beneficial to the prosecution. For instance, Martin L Friedland, in his book My Life in Crime and Other Academic Adventures, contends that the rule should be changed so that a retrial is granted only when the error is shown to be responsible for the verdict, not just one of many factors.

A notable example of this is the case of David Ahenakew or Colby Campbell, who were tried a second time after being acquitted.

European Convention on Human Rights

Article 50 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union protects against double jeopardy.

All members of the Council of Europe (which includes nearly all European countries, and every member of the European Union) have signed the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects against double jeopardy. The optional Seventh Protocol to the Convention, Article Four, says:

No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again in criminal proceedings under the jurisdiction of the same State for an offence for which he has already been finally acquitted or convicted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of that State.

Member states may, however, implement legislation which allows reopening of a case in the event that new evidence is found or if there was a fundamental defect in the previous proceedings.

The provisions of the preceding paragraph shall not prevent the reopening of the case in accordance with the law and penal procedure of the State concerned, if there is evidence of new or newly discovered facts, or if there has been a fundamental defect in the previous proceedings, which could affect the outcome of the case.

This optional protocol has been ratified by all EU states except five (namely Belgium, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and United Kingdom).[5] In those member states, national rules governing double jeopardy may or may not comply with the provision cited above.

In many European countries the prosecution may appeal an acquittal to a higher court (similar to the provisions of Canadian law) – this is not counted as double jeopardy but as a continuation of the same trial. This is allowed by the European Convention on Human Rights – note the word finally in the above quote.


Once all appeals have been exhausted on a case, the judgment is final and the action of the prosecution is closed (code of penal procedure, art. 6), except if the final ruling was forged.[6] Prosecution for an already judged crime is impossible even though new incriminating evidence has been found. However, a person who has been convicted may request another trial on grounds of new exculpating evidence through a procedure known as révision.[7]


In Germany, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany provides protection against double jeopardy:

Nobody shall be punished multiple times for the same crime on the base of general criminal law.

Art. 103 (3) GG

Based on pre-constitutional case law, the clause is constructed to also protect against double jeopardy in the case of an acquittal. However, it is not considered double jeopardy if the prosecution appeals an acquittal.

The rule applies to the whole "historical event, which is usually considered a single historical course of actions the separation of which would seem unnatural". This is true even if new facts occur that indicate other and/or much serious crimes.

The Penal Procedural Code (Strafprozessordnung - StPO) provides some exceptions to the double jeopardy rule:

A retrial not in favour of the defendant is permissible after a final judgment,

  1. if a document that was considered authentic during the trial was actually not authentic or fudged,
  2. if a witness or authorised expert wilfully or negligently made a wrong deposition or willfully gave a wrong simple testimony,
  3. if a professional or lay judge, who made the decision, had committed a crime by violating his or her duties as a judge in the case
  4. if an acquitted defendant makes a credible confession in court or out of court.

§ 362 StPO

In the case of an order of summary punishment (Strafbefehl), which can be issued by the court without a trial for lesser misdemeanours (German: Vergehen), there is a further exception:

A retrial not in favour of the defendant is also permissible if the defendant has been convicted in a final order of summary punishment and new facts or evidence have been brought forward, which establish grounds for a conviction of a felony by themselves or in combination with earlier evidence.

§ 373a StPO

A felony (German: Verbrechen) is defined as a crime which has a usual minimum sanction of one year of imprisonment.


In India, protection against double jeopardy is a Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 20 of the Constitution of India. Accordingly no person can be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once. Right to Freedom in the Constitution of India. The provision enshrines the principle that a person cannot be tried twice for the same offense by any equally competent court. Thus a person cannot be tried for an offense for which he has been tried and convicted. Double Jeopardy involves the concept of Autrefois Acquit or Autrefois Convict. Autrefois acquit means previously acquitted and autrefois convict means previously convicted.[1] The Constitution of India under article 20(3) only provides for autrefois convict. Thus in India if a person is acquitted once he can be tried again. But if a person is prosecuted and punished then he can't be prosecuted again.[8]


The Japanese Constitution states that

  • Article 39
No person shall be held criminally liable for an act which was lawful at the time it was committed, or of which he has been acquitted, nor shall he be placed in double jeopardy.

However, in practice, if someone is acquitted in a lower District Court, then the prosecutor can appeal to the High Court, and then to the Supreme Court. Only the acquittal in the Supreme Court is the final acquittal which prevents any further retrial. This process could take decades.


In the Netherlands, the state prosecution can appeal against a not-guilty verdict at the bench. New evidence can be brought to bear during a retrial at a district court. Thus one can be tried twice for the same alleged crime. If one is convicted at the district court, the defence can make an appeal on procedural grounds to the supreme court. The supreme court might admit this complaint, and the case will be reopened yet again, at another district court. Again, new evidence might be introduced by the prosecution.

According to Dutch legal experts Crombag, Wagenaar, van Koppen, the Dutch system contravenes the provisions of the European Human Rights convention, in the imbalance between the power of the prosecution service and the defence.


Article 13 of the Constitution of Pakistan protects a person from being punished or prosecuted more than once for the same offence.

United Kingdom

The doctrines of autrefois acquit and autrefois convict persisted as part of the common law from the time of the Norman conquest; they were regarded as essential elements of protection of the liberty of the subject and respect for due process of law in that there should be finality of proceedings.[1] There were only three exceptions, all relatively recent, to the rules-

  • The prosecution has a right of appeal against acquittal in summary cases if the decision appears to be wrong in law or in excess of jurisdiction.[9]
  • A retrial is permissible if the interests of justice so require, following appeal against conviction by a defendant.[10]
  • A "tainted acquittal", where there has been an offence of interference with, or intimidation of, a juror or witness, can be challenged in the High Court.[11]

The rule in Connelly v DPP ([1964] AC 1254) also limits the operation of the autrefois doctrine; it was said there that where the facts relied upon in a prosecution are substantially the same as those in a previous trial, the defendant cannot be tried on a subsequent occasion for any offence arising out of those facts unless there are "special circumstances" proven by the prosecution (such as, for example, the "tainted trial" situation).[11] There is little case law on the meaning of "special circumstances", but it has been suggested that the emergence of new evidence would suffice.[12] Additionally, a defendant who has been convicted of an offence can be tried for an aggravated form of that offence if the facts constituting the aggravation have arisen after the first conviction.[13] By contrast, a person who has been acquitted of a lesser offence may not be tried for an aggravated form even if the new evidence becomes available.[14]

The prohibition of a second trial after an acquittal was clarified by the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the MacPherson Report suggested that double jeopardy should be abrogated where "fresh and viable" new evidence came to light, and the Law Commission recommended in 2001 that it should be possible to subject an acquitted murder suspect to a second trial. The Parliament of the United Kingdom implemented these recommendations by passing the Criminal Justice Act 2003[15], introduced by then Home Secretary David Blunkett. Under the 2003 Act, retrials are now allowed if there is "new" and "compelling" evidence for crimes, including murder, but also manslaughter, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, and serious drug crimes. All cases must be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Court of Appeal must agree to quash the original acquittal.[16]

The double jeopardy provisions of the 2003 Act came into force in April 2005.[17] On 11 September 2006, William Dunlop became the first person to be convicted of murder after previously being acquitted. Twice he was tried for the murder of Julie Hogg in Billingham in 1989, but two juries failed to reach a verdict and he was formally acquitted in 1991. Some years later, he confessed to the crime, and was convicted of perjury. The case was re-investigated in early 2005, when the new law came into effect, and his case was referred to the Court of Appeal in November 2005 for permission for a new trial.[18][19][20]

William Dunlop was re-tried and lodged a guilty plea for murdering Julie Hogg and raping her dead body repeatedly. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation he serve no less than 17 years.[21]

The law change only applies to England and Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the double jeopardy rule still applies.

On 21 May 2009, Mario Celaire, who had previously been found not guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend, was found guilty under double jeopardy laws of her manslaughter.[22] He was sentenced to life imprisonment.[23]

United States

The double jeopardy rule arises from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the relevant clause of which reads: "[no person shall] be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb".

This clause is intended to limit abuse by the government in repeated prosecution for the same offense as a means of harassment or oppression. It is also in harmony with the common law concept of res judicata which prevents courts from relitigating issues which have already been the subject of a final judgment.

More specifically, as stated in Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436 (1970): "...when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit." Res judicata is a term of general application. Underneath that conceptual umbrella is the concept of collateral estoppel. As applied to double jeopardy, the court will use collateral estoppel as its basis for forming an opinion.

There are three essential protections included in the double jeopardy principle, which are:

  • being tried for the same crime after an acquittal
  • retrial after a conviction, unless the conviction has been reversed, vacated or otherwise nullified
  • being punished multiple times for the same offense

This rule is occasionally referred to as a legal technicality because it allows defendants a defense that does not address whether the crime was actually committed. For example, were police to uncover new evidence conclusively proving the guilt of someone previously acquitted, there is little they can do because the defendant may not be tried again—at least not on the same or a substantially similar charge. Fong Foo v. United States, 369 U.S. 141 (1962).

Although the Fifth Amendment initially applied only to the federal government, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the double jeopardy clause applies to the states as well through incorporation by the Fourteenth Amendment (Benton v. Maryland).

Jeopardy attaches in a jury trial once the jury and alternates are impaneled and sworn in. In a non-jury trial jeopardy attaches once the first evidence is put on which occurs when the first witness is sworn.[citation needed]


Non-final judgments

As double jeopardy applies only to charges that were the subject of an earlier final judgment, there are many situations in which it does not apply despite the appearance of a retrial. For example, a second trial held after a mistrial does not violate the double jeopardy clause because a mistrial ends a trial prematurely without a judgment of guilty or not guilty. Cases dismissed because of insufficient evidence may constitute a final judgment for these purposes though many state and federal laws allow for substantially limited prosecutorial appeals from these orders. Also a retrial after a conviction has been set aside following the grant of a motion for new trial, has been reversed on appeal, or has been vacated in a collateral proceeding (such as habeas corpus), does not violate double jeopardy because the judgment in the first trial has been invalidated. In all of these cases, however, the previous trials do not entirely vanish. Testimony from them may be used in later retrials such as to impeach contradictory testimony given at any subsequent proceeding.

Fraudulent trials

There are two exceptions to the general rule that the prosecution cannot appeal from an acquittal:

  • If the earlier trial is proven to be a fraud or scam, double jeopardy will not prohibit a new trial. In Harry Aleman[24] an appeals court ruled that a man who bribed his trial judge and was acquitted of murder was allowed to be tried again because his bribe prevented his first trial from actually putting him in jeopardy.
  • Prosecutors may appeal when a trial judge sets aside a jury verdict for conviction with a judgment notwithstanding the verdict for the defendant. A successful appeal by the prosecution would simply reinstate the jury verdict and so would not place the defendant at risk of another trial.

The Supreme Court has also upheld laws allowing the government to appeal criminal sentences in limited circumstances (such as 18 U.S.C. § 3742(b)). The Court ruled that sentences were not accorded the same constitutional finality as jury verdicts under the double jeopardy clause, and giving this right of appeal also did not put the defendant at risk of a succession of prosecutions.

Double jeopardy is also not implicated for separate offenses or in separate jurisdictions arising from the same act. For example, in United States v. Felix 503 U.S. 378 (1992), the Supreme Court ruled: 'a[n]...offense and a conspiracy to commit that offense are not the same offense for double jeopardy purposes.'[25][26]

As another example, a state might try a defendant for murder, after which the federal government might try the same defendant for a federal crime (perhaps a civil rights violation or kidnapping) related to the same act. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with assaulting Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted by a county court, but some were later convicted and sentenced in federal court for violating his civil rights. Similar techniques were used for prosecuting racially-motivated crimes in the Southern United States in the 1960s during the time of the Civil Rights Movement, when those crimes had not been actively prosecuted, or had resulted in acquittals by juries thought to be racist or sympathetic to the accused in local courts.

Separate sovereigns

The 'separate sovereigns' exception to double jeopardy arises from the unique nature of the American federal system, in which states are sovereigns with plenary power that have relinquished a number of enumerated powers to the federal government. Double jeopardy attaches only to prosecutions for the same criminal act by the same sovereign, but as separate sovereigns, both the federal and state governments can bring separate prosecutions for the same act. For example, Timothy McVeigh was executed by the federal government for murdering eight federal employees with a bomb, but could also have been tried in state court for murdering numerous other persons in the same explosion. Furthermore, the 'separate sovereigns' rule allows two states to prosecute for the same criminal act. For example, if a man stood in New York and shot and killed a man standing over the border in Connecticut, both New York and Connecticut could charge the shooter with murder.[27]

Different legal standards

Double jeopardy also does not apply if the later charge is civil rather than criminal in nature, which involves a different legal standard. Acquittal in a criminal case does not prevent the defendant from being the defendant in a civil suit relating to the same incident (though res judicata operates within the civil court system). For example, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of a double homicide in a California criminal prosecution, but lost a civil wrongful death claim brought over the same victims.

If the defendant happened to be on parole from an earlier offense at the time, the act for which he was acquitted may also be the subject of a parole violation hearing, which is not considered a criminal trial. Since parolees are usually subject to restrictions not imposed on other citizens, evidence of actions that were not deemed criminal by the court may be re-considered by the parole board, which could deem the same evidence as proof of a parole violation. In addition, like civil trials parole violation hearings are also subject to a lower standard of proof so it is possible for a parolee to be punished by the parole board for criminal actions that he was acquitted of in court.

In the U.S. military courts martial are subject to the same law of double jeopardy, as the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the military, superseding the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Nonjudicial punishment is considered akin to a civil case and is subject to lower standards than a court martial, which is the same as a court of law. However if a non-judicial or NJP proceeding fails to produce conclusive evidence, the commanding officer (or ranking official presiding over the NJP) is not allowed to prepare the same charge against the military member in question. In a court martial, acquittal of the defendant means he is protected permanently from having those charges reinstated.

The most famous U.S. court case invoking the claim of double jeopardy is probably the second 1876 murder trial of Jack McCall, killer of Wild Bill Hickock. McCall was acquitted in his first trial, which federal authorities later ruled illegal because it took place in an illegal town, Deadwood, then located in South Dakota Indian Territory. At the time Federal law prohibited all except for Native Americans from settling in the Indian Territory. McCall was retried in federal Indian Territorial court, convicted, and hanged in 1877. He was the first person ever executed by federal authorities in the Dakota Territory.

Double jeopardy also does not apply if the defendant was never tried from the start. Charges that were dropped or put on hold for any reason can always be reinstated in the future if not barred by any statute of limitations.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Stephe (1864), A treatise on military law and the practice of courts-martial, p. 97, 
  2. ^ NSW seeks to scrap double jeopardy principle, The World Today.
  3. ^ a b NSW abolishes double jeopardy, University of NSW.
  4. ^ Double Jeopardy and the Carroll Case, University of NSW.
  5. ^ Protocol No. 7 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Council of Europe.
  6. ^ Code of penal procedure, article 6
  7. ^ Code of penal procedure, articles 622-626
  8. ^ Article 20, Section 2 of the Constitution of India reads, "No person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once."
  9. ^ Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 ss.28, 111; Supreme Court Act 1981 s.28
  10. ^ Criminal Appeal Act 1968 s.7
  11. ^ a b Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 s.54
  12. ^ Attorney-General for Gibraltar v Leoni, Court of Appeal, 1999 (unreported) see Law Com CP No 156, para 2.24
  13. ^ R v Thomas [1950] 1 KB 26
  14. ^ R v Beedie [1998] QB 356, Dingwall, 2000
  15. ^ Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44).
  16. ^ The CPS : Retrial of Serious Offences
  17. ^ Double jeopardy law ushered out, BBC News.
  18. ^ Man faces double jeopardy retrial, BBC News.
  19. ^ Murder conviction is legal first, BBC News.
  20. ^ The law of 'double jeopardy', BBC News.
  21. ^ Double jeopardy man is given life, BBC News.
  22. ^ Cleared man admits killing woman BBC News retrieved 21-05-2009
  23. ^ Killer jailed after jeopardy case BBC News retrieved 03-07-2009
  24. ^ Harry Aleman, Petitioner-appellant, v. the Honorable Judges of the Circuit Court of Cook County,criminal Division, Illinois, Honorable Michael P. Toomin,judge Presiding, Honorable Richard Devine, State's Attorneyof Cook County, Illinois, Ernesto Velasco, Executivedirector, Cook County Department of Corrections,respondents-appellees; United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit. - 138 F.3d 302; Argued Dec. 2, 1997; Decided March 6, 1998;
  25. ^ Donofrio, Anthony J. (1993). "The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment: The Supreme Court's Cursory Treatment of Underlying Conduct in Successive Prosecutions". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 83 (4): 773–803. doi:10.2307/1143871. 
  26. ^ Shindala, C. (1992). "Where Conspiracy To Commit a Crime Is Based on Previously Prosecuted Overt Acts, No Double Jeopardy Violation Exists". Mississippi Law Journal 62 (1): 229–243. ISSN 00266280. 
  27. ^ United States v. Claiborne, 92 F.Supp.2d 503 (E.D.Va.); tandem state-federal prosecutions not prohibited under "sovereign rule"

External links

United States


In favor of current rule prohibiting retrial after acquittal

Opposing the rule that prohibits retrial after acquittal

Other countries

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