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The Complexities of Double Jeopardy

The George Zimmerman case brought to light a significant number of complex legal issues that have made many more fascinated (and possibly confused) at how the criminal justice system works. The Zimmerman case is most well-known for the imposition of the “Stand Your Ground” law that has been at the forefront of Florida’s legal system in the last year. However, the Zimmerman case has also shown another complex legal issue that is important to many defendants similarly situated: double jeopardy.

Double Jeopardy Law: What is It?

Double jeopardy as a concept is generally well known, but the intricacies of double jeopardy are more complicated than the idea that the court is unable to charge you twice for the same crime. For example, Zimmerman was found innocent by a jury in Florida and was acquitted of criminal wrongdoing. However, the Department of Justice was then able to bring a case against Zimmerman under the federal civil rights violations of a hate crime. How is that possible?

In our criminal justice system, there is a separation of powers between the state and federal government. This separation of powers creates designations that the state and the government are two separate sovereigns and, therefore, act independently of each other. The concept of double jeopardy was originally envisioned to ensure that not only were citizens spared from constant bites of the apple to convict them for a crime, but also to provide some legal certainty to the citizens; once you have been found innocent, that is the end of the matter. Also, at the time when double jeopardy was originally created, there were very few crimes that were criminal at both the federal and state level. Nowadays, however, there is significant overlap between state and federal crimes.

The Double Jeopardy Debate

Many believe double jeopardy, and the manner that the Supreme Court currently envisions double jeopardy, is unfair to the defendant. For example, if the defendant is found innocent in a state court, why should he/she be subjected to another round of proceedings in a federal venue? On the other side of the coin, others believe that double jeopardy is a way to ensure that justice is served one way or another; in other words, even if not all of the elements of a crime are met, the defendant may still not be off the hook for the crime that they have committed against another.

Double Jeopardy in Florida

Pursuant to Florida law, which outlines its own double jeopardy code as it applies to state crimes, a defendant may not be charged twice for the same crime. For example, in a most recent case, the prosecution wanted to charge a defendant with both attempted home invasion robbery and armed burglary. However, there is very little difference between the two crimes. According to Florida law, a defendant may not be charged with two or more crimes which share all the same elements. When the two charges require the same elements to be proven, the court may decide to charge the defendant with the greater offense. Sometimes deciding which is a greater offense may be difficult if the elements of the crimes are almost identical. For example, if Crime 1 has elements A, B, and C, and Crime 2 has elements A, B, C, and D, the court must choose between charging the defendant with Crime 1 or Crime 2 since the elements of the crime are almost identical; it would be unfair to charge the defendant with both crimes.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Double jeopardy is an extremely complex legal issue, and it is critical that a defendant has an experienced attorney who can understand when and how to apply the double jeopardy doctrine. Kevin J. Kulik is an experienced criminal defense attorney in the Fort Lauderdale area who can advocate on behalf of a defendant to make sure that he/she is not being charged twice for the same crime. Contact the law offices of Kevin J. Kulik in Fort Lauderdale today for a free and confidential consultation.

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