Posted On: February 19, 2013 by Timothy Bussey

What Does It Mean to be Tried Twice for the “Same” Offense?

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that no person shall “for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This section is known as the double jeopardy clause. Like all Constitutional rights, however, courts have struggled for years to decide exactly what the words mean. What counts as being tried for the “same” offense?

In a case called Blockburger v. United States (1932), the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a person could be tried for two very similar crimes, as long as each charge contained at least one element the other charge did not. Criminal charges are made up of parts called “elements,” and to convict a person of a crime, a judge or jury must find that each element has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Blockburger, the Supreme Court held that a person could be charged with multiple crimes that shared elements, as long as each charge had at least one element the other charges didn’t. For instance, a person might be charged with both “aggravated assault,” which contains the elements “assault” and “with a weapon,” and “domestic violence,” which contains the elements “assault” and “of a family member or intimate partner.”

The two charges share one element: assault. However, they each have an element the other one doesn’t have -– aggravated assault involves a weapon, while domestic violence involves a family member. Therefore, under Blockburger, a court would probably say that these charges don’t violate the double jeopardy clause and the charged person can face trial for both.

Understanding your Constitutional rights is key to vigorously protecting them. At the Bussey Law Firm, P.C., our passionate El Paso County criminal defense attorneys have years of experience understanding and fighting to protect our clients’ legal rights. Contact us today at (719) 475-2555 for a free and confidential consultation.