The latin phrase “non bis in idem” is translated as “not twice in the same thing” and refers to the right of a defendant to be protected from prosecution for the same crime twice. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “No person shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This is not exclusively an American doctrine, and is found in a similar form in the federal law of nearly every other modern country. In fact, every member of the Council of Europe has signed a convention which regulates human rights. Article Four of Protocol Seven of the Convention says that no person can be charged again for a crime that they have already been acquitted or convicted of. Laws that guard against double jeopardy are extremely important in any modern legal system, because of the how corrupt and easily abusable repeat trials would be.
Although Double Jeopardy protection would almost always be considered a beneficial law, it does not lack its fair share of controversy. As possibly the most famous American court case of all time, the O.J. Simpson trial is a prime example of the perceived negative effects of the Double Jeopardy clause. O.J. Simpson was represented by some of the best lawyers in the country and was acquitted of murder on October 3, 1995 after a nearly year-long trial. The result of the trial was met with public backlash and many people said that the result of the trial was incorrect. However, the family of one of the victims filed a civil suit and was awarded a compensatory sum of 33.5 million dollars. The result of the O.J. case seemed to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the media and public, and the case has always been viewed with a negative attitude ever since. This was not helped when, in 2016, it was discovered that a buried knife had been found on Simpson’s estate after the trial. A public outcry for justice was hard to quell. Because the Double Jeopardy clause applied to the case, he could not be tried for the same murders. Some people believe in karma because Simpson is currently serving 33 years in prison for an unrelated armed robbery charge from 2007. He will be eligible for parole in 2017 and the recent findings may have an impact.
Many other countries have exceptions to the rule of Double Jeopardy. In Scotland, there are three exceptions to the law: a person can be tried again if there is evidence of one party tampering with the trial, or if the accused later confesses after the trial, or if new evidence is found. The U.S. does not currently have any exceptions to the law; however, there is a legal loophole that has been used in the past to prosecute twice. If one commits a crime that can be prosecuted on both the state and federal level, you can be prosecuted separately per sovereign. Many people believe that a constitutional amendment should add exceptions to the law of Double Jeopardy. There are certainly positive benefits to consider from making such an amendment. However, many staunch defenders of the constitution will say that any exceptions can be exploited to the benefit of the prosecution. What is your opinion on the Double Jeopardy law? Should courts be able to try O.J Simpson again based off new evidence? Let the attorneys at Anderson Law know what you think! We’re located on Clearwater in Kennewick. – written by high school intern Aja George
[Editor’s note: although we normally blog about car accidents, personal injury, and how insurance may affect the residents of the Tri Cities, we’re glad that Aja could blog about a part of the legal system that fascinates him.]