Congratulations, you’ve been found not guilty of a crime you may or may not have committed by a judge or a jury of your peers. Everything is right with the world (or if you had committed the crime, then slightly askew). But what does that mean for you and your future? Are you safe? Can you be tried again? If you were found “not guilty” of a crime that has been committed, then that means you can’t be held accountable for the crime with which you were charged at that time or at any time in the future.
Contrary to the plot of “Double Jeopardy,” a movie released in 1999, if you are found not guilty of first degree murder, whether or not you can be retried is up for debate. Usually you’re free and clear, but the funny thing about prosecution is this: it wants to win. If you really did commit the crime, and law enforcement only figures that out after you were acquitted, then double jeopardy statutes say you can’t be retried for that same crime. What they don’t say is that the prosecuting lawyer can’t hit you with a similar charge. In the case of the movie, you’d probably get nailed with second degree murder or manslaughter. Bummer.
Then again, if the prosecution relied on evidence that you committed offenses that fall into an umbrella under first degree murder and you are found not guilty, then you are not guilty of all the offenses found in that umbrella, second degree murder and manslaughter included. You can’t be retried for any of those offenses. It really depends on the circumstances, but let’s face it: the circumstances under which you would ever need to be retried for any crime are extraordinarily rare and you probably don’t have to worry about it.
Although a defendant can appeal a judge or jury’s decision to convict with a “guilty” verdict, double jeopardy laws guarantee that the prosecution cannot do the same.
In England, double jeopardy is complicated further. Their laws say that you can be retried if two prerequisites fall into place: first, the crime must be serious (think rape or murder). Second, new evidence must be made available, and it must be compelling enough that a new trial will even be considered.
In any case, guilt or lack thereof is a complex subject. If you are accused of a crime, be sure to acquire the services of the best criminal defense attorney you can afford. If the prosecutor smells defeat, it probably doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or not. They’ll offer a plea bargain that sounds better than the alternative. Be careful.