The legal basis for "double jeopardy" is well known, but some of what people believe about it is actually founded in myth. Double jeopardy does not apply to a pair of separate -- but similar -- crimes. It only applies to the exact same crime, making it so that you can't be convicted twice for that one event.

The basic idea behind double jeopardy is to ensure that the sentence a person is given is the only one he or she has to serve. A person can't be convicted, sent to jail for 10 years, and then thrown back in jail for the same crime a month after being released. Once a sentence has been served and a person's debt to society has been repaid, that crime is behind the individual. It's still on the person's record in most cases, but he or she doesn't have to worry about being arrested, tried and convicted again.

Perhaps even more importantly, it prevents individuals from being charged and tried again after they've been found not guilty or pardoned. There are rare exceptions, but it generally means that the result of the trial has to stick -- even if people feel that the wrong verdict was reached.

Individual Crimes

Once again, though, this only applies when talking about the same event. A lot of the confusion comes from a movie called "Double Jeopardy," which came out in 1999. In it, a woman is wrongfully convicted of murder. The movie then claims that she can go ahead and kill her husband, whom she never killed the first time and who was actually still alive, without worrying about being charged. It says that double jeopardy would apply and she couldn't be arrested for a killing that she'd already been convicted of carrying out.

In reality, that movie isn't factual at all. Being wrongfully convicted doesn't mean you can't be tried for a second crime, even if it's nearly identical to the first alleged crime. When two separate acts take place, you can be tried and sentenced for crimes committed each time.

Legal Realities

It's easy for movies to create legal myths that people will believe, assuming writers must have done their research and gotten all of the facts right. The truth is often quite different, though, and it's important to separate myth from reality whenever you're considering your legal options. Even things you've firmly believed all of your life, since they're widely held opinions, could turn out to be false. Make sure you do your research and really understand both state and federal laws.