In the United States, once a defendant has been adjudicated on a charge, they cannot be tried for the same crime again. It’s an extremely important principle, but one that you may not think about that often. Like many elements of the law, it is not quite as straightforward as it might appear. For example, double jeopardy also applies to situations where someone is charged twice for the same offense when one is a lesser included offense in another. Once again, this analysis can get tricky.
Lesser Included Offenses
In criminal law, every crime has certain elements that the state needs to prove in order to convict a defendant of the crime. Someone cannot be charged under two different statutes when one of the crimes is a lesser included offense of the crime. For example, let’s say a defendant is charged and convicted for murdering a victim. They cannot then also be brought to court for attempted murder with the same victim during the same course of events. Another example would be the crime of possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. That charge requires possession of the drugs as part of the offense. Thus, a defendant cannot (usually – the law gets tricky) be convicted of both possession of drugs and possession of drugs with the intent to distribute when it is the same drugs. At first glance the case here may seem to contradict this rule, but with further inquiry the court’s reasoning behind not finding double jeopardy violations here make sense.