Double Jeopardy

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LNCtips.com: Double Jeopardy


What do OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony have in common?  Juries found both of them not guilty of sensational crimes.  Prosecutors can never try them again for the same offenses. That's because of a constitutional amendment that prevents double jeopardy, prosecution of an individual for the same crime more than once.  Double jeopardy applies to criminal cases.  Does it also apply to medical malpractice cases tried in civil court?

The short answer is, "No."  Criminal and civil cases differ in many ways, and this is one of them.  As written in the fifth amendment of the US Constitution, no person shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."  It's an important amendment that prevents the government from using its power to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for the same offense.

Since the government and its power aren't involved in medical malpractice cases, double jeopardy does not apply.  In civil cases, the plaintiff has options that aren't available to the prosecution in criminal cases.  For example, both plaintiffs and defendants can file motions for a new trial if they are unhappy with the verdict.  The loser files a motion to set aside a jury verdict due to perceived errors in the trial.  For example, the motion might cite vital rulings that the judge made about evidence.  Perceived errors can also include attorney behavior as seen in this medical malpractice case.  An incorrect instruction to the jury is another perceived error.  The loser must file a motion for a new trial within a certain number of days after the verdict.  In the motion, the loser must cite the perceived errors and provide case law that support's its position.  The same judge who presided at the trial usually rules on the motion.

In addition to requesting a new trial, both plaintiffs and defendants have the option to appeal the verdict.  (In criminal law, only defendants have this option due to double jeopardy.)  An appeal isn't a new trial, although appeal courts sometimes grant requests for new trials.  Rather, an appeal is a written petition to a higher court to change the decision made by the lower court.  As with the motion for a new trial, the loser at trial (called the appellant) submits written arguments and case law explaining why the lower court's verdict should be overturned.  At the same time, the winner at trial (the appellee) provides written arguments explaining why the verdict should be upheld.  Like motions for a new trial, appeals must be filed within a certain period after the trial's verdict.

Prevention of double jeopardy is an important right for individuals accused of crimes.  However, for individuals accusing other individuals of medical malpractice, double jeopardy does not apply.

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...Katy Jones