Law enforcement officers have been known to charge an individual with as many crimes as possible when they make an arrest. As officers of the law, they have the right to use their discretion when determining criminal charges. However, this could result in more criminal charges than is necessarily fair in a specific situation. When this happens, it is known as criminal charge stacking and can allow a prosecutor to treat separate offences as prior convictions. This means that, even if a defendant has no prior convictions, they can be treated as if they are a repeat offender.
A prosecutor may utilize the practice of charge stacking to convince a defendant to take a plea offer they may have otherwise declined. To do so, the prosecutor may inform a defendant they will ask for an enhanced sentence and include all the charges against them if they take their case to trial. This has happened even when it was not clear if the charges could be considered separately. When this is done, it often results in a defendant being frightened that they will face a possible long prison sentence. They think of all the charges and believe they have no other choice but to accept the prosecutor’s plea offer.
There is a difference between piling on and stacking charges, though the two are often confused with one another. A prosecutor is piling on charges when they charge a criminal defendant with all possible charges that came from a defendant’s single action. The goal is to get a defendant to plead guilty to one or more of the charges. Piling on charges is legal. Each crime being charged must have an element that is different from the others being charged.
Piling on charges may happen if someone is drinking and gets into an argument with a friend in a parking lot. The person pushes the friend down, takes their car, and drives away, leaving their friend stranded. The person responsible could face a variety of charges. They could be charged with assault, drunk driving, public intoxication, car theft, and more.
Stacking charges may happen if a person assaults a relative and takes their car without permission. Let’s say there was a gun in the car and the person has illegal drugs in their pocket at the time of an arrest. A prosecutor could charge this person with felony weapon possession, assault, drug possession, and theft. The vehicle and assault charges may then be treated as separate felony offences. This is done so a prosecutor can determine the punishment for the total sentence.
Charge stacking is bad news for a criminal defendant. It causes them to deal with charges that are not part of the facts associated with the crime they allegedly committed. Prosecutors know that the more charges a defendant is facing, the more difficult it will be to successfully address all of them. They could even end up being convicted of crimes not associated with the reason for their arrest if they are never convicted for their original actions. Being convicted of multiple charges could result in a long and exaggerated sentence. Charge stacking can make a low-level offender appear to be a serious crime when this is just not true. This results in first-time offenders being convicted of several stacked charges against them.
A significant problem is that pressure from the public for a conviction often pushes prosecutors to stack charges. Many believe they must do so to prove themselves. Doing this is also an effective way for a prosecutor to improve their courtroom success. Stacking on charges is effective because it is more difficult to defend against a large number of charges.
However, an experienced criminal defence attorney will have experience in this area and, upon reviewing the case and realizing that many of the charges are probably not going to lead to a conviction, they will be able to provide their clients with insight into what is going on. An experienced criminal lawyer will also know how to refute each of the charges made by the prosecutor. They may be able to argue that their client’s situation is not appropriate for a sentencing enhancement. This will make it possible for them and their client to focus on the actual charges that apply to their case and not. These attorneys know how to get the applicable charges dismissed and move forward. If you have been arrested and are facing multiple charges, contact Robert A. Dodell, Attorney at Law. He is a legal professional with the experience and knowledge to get you the best possible result.