Many of you have heard of the new development in the OJ Simpson case, the discovery of a knife that was found on Simpson’s property sometime around 2002 or 2003 (interesting that this is coming to light during the airing of the OJ Simpson TV drama on FX). A construction worker, who gave the knife to a former LAPD officer that was working as a security officer, reportedly uncovered the knife on or around Simpson’s property. For reasons that are unclear, the knife was just recently turned over to LAPD in early March. This is big news because the knife used in the murders of OJ’s wife, Nicole Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman, was never found and Simpson was ultimately acquitted in 1995 for their murders. So what does this discovery mean for OJ Simpson and the murder charges that of which he was acquitted back in 1995? LAPD is testing the knife for DNA and hair, and it has been unofficially reported that no DNA exists, but if they find something, what can they do?
Can Simpson be retried for the murder of his wife and her friend?
No, he cannot be retried. Jeopardy has attached and Simpson is protected from being retried on the same offense after being acquitted. The 5th Amendment of the United State’s Constitution provides that no person shall be “subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” In other words, a person shall not be put on trial for the same offense after receiving a not guilty verdict. This is commonly known as the protection again Double Jeopardy. Further, the Doctrine of Res Judicata (claims preclusion) bars relitigation of a claim that has been validly and finally adjudicated.
Because OJ Simpson was acquitted for the murder of his wife and her friend, this means that he is protected by the Constitution from Double Jeopardy and cannot be taken to trial for their murders again even if new “evidence” is discovered. This answer would not change even if DNA evidence came back showing a link to one of the victims. Further, under the Doctrine of Res Judicata, since there was a valid and final judgment in regards to the guilt of Simpson in these murders, the State of California is barred from reopening Simpson’s case.
Is there any way around Double Jeopardy?
The only way around double jeopardy is to be federally indicted for some other offense arising from the same events. The state and federal authorities are separate sovereigns. Here, it would not be a Double Jeopardy violation for Simpson to receive a federal indictment for violation of the victims’ civil rights, but it would be incredibly unlikely.
Takeaway: If you have already been found not guilty for an criminal charge, the 5th Amendment and Doctrine of Res Judicata protect you from being brought to trial on that same charge.