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The difference between multiple charges and double jeopardy

Most people are familiar with the concept of double jeopardy. Present in both the United States Constitution as well as Article 1, Section 13 of the California Constitution, the jeopardy doctrine protects an individual, who has been convicted or acquitted, from being tried again for the same offense.

Without this legal knowledge, however, you may have questions about double jeopardy and how it relates to separate prosecutions stemming from a criminal act. Like some of our Alameda County readers, you may be wondering if there is a difference between the two; and if so, what that difference is. In this week's blog post, we will look at these two aspects of the law in order to give our readers a better understanding of their rights when it comes to criminal law.

As you well know, some criminal acts can result in multiple charges. Take for example a drunk-driving hit-and-run accident that involves injuries. In this example, the driver could face criminal charges for driving while intoxicated, fleeing the scene of an accident, and fleeing the scene of an accident involving injuries.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Blockburger v. United States, the burden of proof is on prosecutors to show that each charge has at least one mutually exclusive element. In the example above, although each charge stems from the same incident, each charge is separate. None of them are considered a lesser offense to another, meaning successive punishments could occur.

Double jeopardy works a little differently though. Take for example a convicted murderer who has been acquitted because of police misconduct that led to a false confession. Under the jeopardy doctrine, this person has the expectation that they will not have to face criminal actions for the same offense down the road.

Even knowing all of this, you may still have questions about your rights when it comes to criminal offense. Don't worry, you're not alone. It's important to talk to a skilled lawyer if you do have questions because leaving them unanswered could create legal problems for you down the road.

Source: FindLaw, "Double Jeopardy: What Constitutes the Same Offense," Accessed Dec. 15, 2014

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