Most people have heard of “double jeopardy” in some way or another. Whether it be through reading, television shows or movies, the idea that someone can’t be charged twice for the same crime is part of our lexicon. However, it is not as simple as it sounds.
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, in relevant part, “…nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb..”. The obvious application of this rule of law is if a person is found not guilty by a jury, the prosecutor cannot re-charge the defendant with the same offense. But what happens if that same person is acquitted in state court, but the federal government seeks and obtains an indictment for the same offense? What happens if the person is convicted in federal court, and an individual state prosecutor levies the same charge? This issue has gained more traction now that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, has been convicted in federal court of various crimes. The question has been raised: If Trump pardons Manafort, can any other state prosecute him for the same offenses?
Back in June of this year, the United States Supreme Court emphatically answered that question in the affirmative. The Court ruled that the double jeopardy clause of the constitution does not apply when both the federal government and an individual state levy the same charge. It ruled that because state and federal governments are separate sovereigns, they are free to charge a defendant with identical crimes. And a defendant can be convicted and sentenced for both offenses without running afoul of the constitution. Therefor, when someone is convicted in state or federal court, or acquitted in either, the Fifth Amendment does not prohibit further prosecution for the same offense.
A bad day for those in President Trump’s orbit who have, or may still be, convicted of criminal conduct.