What Is The Legal Definition Of “Double Jeopardy?”

The “Double Jeopardy” defense was popularized by the popular movie of the same name, which starred Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones (and if you haven’t watched it, we highly recommend you do). The protagonist in that movie was accused of committing a murder for which she was not responsible, and decided to track down the man who framed her. Theoretically, Double Jeopardy is a legal clause that would allow her to kill him in broad daylight without any further consequences.

But would it really work?

Double Jeopardy was introduced when the Fifth Amendment was ratified. The legal definition of Double Jeopardy says that no person shall “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.

The clause provides legal protection in four very specific situations. A person cannot be retried after a previous acquittal for the same crime. A person cannot be retried after a conviction for the same crime. A person cannot be retried after certain types of mistrials, specifically during which a judge acted in bad faith — but this is more of a technical reason that Double Jeopardy might be implemented. Lastly, a person cannot be punished more than once for the same crime.

Theoretically, let’s say that you were framed for murder, just like what happened in the movie Double Jeopardy. You are tried and incarcerated for that murder. You are then released. You track down the very much alive person you supposedly murdered, and then actually murder the guy. Would you get away with it?  

Probably not. It’s a great story, but the legal reasoning behind it is unsound. Double Jeopardy protects an individual from being retried for the same crime. The problem is this: no matter how you slice it, a murder on one day is a different crime than a murder on another day — even if the victim of the crime is the same person. The protagonist in the movie would still be tried and convicted (again).