When a single incident that leads to someone’s arrest turns into a whole pile of related criminal charges, that’s called charge stacking.
Officially, you’re just being given the charges the prosecution sees as applicable to your situation. In reality, however, the practice is often deliberately unfair.
Why does charge stacking favor the prosecution?
Charge stacking always favors the prosecution because it gives the jury a handful of verdicts to consider instead of just one. The prosecutor increases the odds with every additional charge that at least one of them will turn into a conviction.
In addition, the prosecutor may also be using charge stacking as a form of leverage against a defendant who doesn’t want to accept a plea deal. The fear of a conviction on an entire list of charges (because charge stacking turns into sentence stacking) can easily intimidate a defendant into agreeing to a deal where many of those charges are dropped. That always goes down as a “win” in the prosecution’s book.
What types of charges do the prosecutors commonly stack? It can happen with almost anything. Consider the following examples:
- Someone’s caught with marijuana and had rolling papers and a pipe. They’re charged not only with drug possession but a separate drug paraphernalia charge for the pipe and each rolling paper.
- A defendant in a white collar case is charged with bribing someone for a government contract, but then charges of mail and wire fraud and a conspiracy to launder money are added on.
- Someone gets into a bar fight and ends up facing multiple assault charges for several different punches and a weapons charge for having a knife in their pocket at the time.
Everybody makes mistakes from time to time, but prosecutors have fairly broad latitude over what charges they bring against a defendant. It’s not unusual for them to lay more charges on someone’s head than is fair – and you might not even realize it.
When you’re fighting for your future (and your freedom), make sure that you fully understand your defense options.