Double Jeopardy in the United States: The Startling Reality

Gavel depicting double jeopardy

Have you heard of the term, double jeopardy?

Let’s take a look at an example of double jeopardy that didn’t apply to a case. Curtis Flowers is sitting on death row in Mississippi. He has been tried, 6 times, for the same crime. It’s a terrible crime: the execution-style murder of four people.

However, it is a crime Curtis Flowers has said he didn’t commit for 22 years.

So how could he be tried 6 times? Doesn’t the law prevent people from having to endure that kind of thing? Furthermore, doesn’t the term “Double Jeopardy” apply in a case like this?

The Trials of Curtis Flowers

The trial of Curtis Flowers is featured on the American Public Media Reports Podcast called In The Dark. Season two of In The Dark is all about the case that got Curtis sent to prison and tried 6 times for the same crime.

It is about the weak argument the prosecution made against him and how that same case could end up working for all these years. Additionally, it is about racism in our justice system and about a District Attorney who hasn’t been able to stop trying Curtis Flowers even though he can’t seem to win.

Double Jeopardy

The crazy reality is that double jeopardy doesn’t apply to the 6 trials of Curtis Flowers.

What is double jeopardy? The 5th amendment to our Constitution provides that “No person shall … be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”

This means that if someone is tried and acquitted of a crime, he or she can’t be tried again for the same offense. In practice, however, more people are re-tried than you might imagine.

The reason double jeopardy doesn’t apply to Curtis Flowers’ cases is that he has never been acquitted. In his first three trials, he was convicted and later had his verdict overturned by an appeals court. In two of his trials, the jury never reached a verdict.

His sixth and most recent, trial resulted in a guilty verdict which has held up so far. Now, Mr. Flowers is currently being represented by counsel from the Innocence Project.

In each of his first five cases, after the case was thrown out by a higher court, District Attorney Doug Evans has decided to try the case again. In the meantime, Mr. Flowers has remained in prison.

How Many First Trials Can Someone Have?

The law does not state that a prosecutor can’t try a case again after an overturned verdict. The law also doesn’t require a District Attorney to do so, and many of them don’t.

However, there’s really no way of knowing. According to this podcast, there is no record – either nationally or in local precincts – of repeated prosecutions. Frequently, the only people who remember these cases are the local clerks and the lawyers involved in them.

The truth is that it’s up to the discretion of the D.A. He has control over which charges are brought, against whom, and how many times. In addition, he is only answerable to voters.

Takeaway

In conclusion, Curtis Flowers’ case is an eye-opening look into our justice system. It is a glimpse at how our justice system could allow a man to sit on death row and endure 6 trials for a crime.

If you or a loved one is facing charges, it is imperative that you have the representation of a qualified and experienced criminal attorney. Please reach out today.

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