the problem with multiple different charges for the same criminal act - Politics | PoFo

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Crime and prevention thereof. Loopholes, grey areas and the letter of the law.
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Laws are designed to protect people. The basic idea is you shouldn't go to prison unless you break the law. And if you do break the law, the law should be there to limit how long you can be sentenced to prison based on what you did. That's the idea.

But the reality is this concept has been breaking down. Because of numerous laws that keep getting passed over the years there is now a lot of overlap, where people can be charged with multiple different felonies and criminal statutes for the same criminal act. This effectively takes away any legal limit on how long someone can be sentenced to, no matter how minor the criminal act. It puts a huge level of discretionary power into the hands of the prosecutors and judges.

And it has controversially become a centerpiece of the criminal justice system. Prosecutors routinely tack on as many criminal charges as possible, even for minor criminal acts, to coerce the defendant into agreeing to a plea bargain and pleading guilty. Basically the defendant will have two choices: plead guilty and be sentenced to 9 months, or take his chances in a trial and risk potentially being sentenced to 10 or 15 years. Most take the plea bargain.

This is a complicated subject and a lot of facets to this, so I'm not able to cover all the subject matter in this post as well as I'd like. This thread, as long as it is, doesn't really do justice to this topic being discussed.

Charge Stacking: Gambling with People's Lives
http://www.seekingjusticefortheinnocent ... gcharges-3

Excellent article:

Another issue is the problem of Double Jeopardy. Apparently you can be tried for the same crime twice, if there are two different laws criminalizing the same exact crime! ... ges-crime/

I know some of you may have trouble understanding this, and so to help make the issue more concrete, below I've included several real life examples:

Man faces two felony counts for pulling out a banana on police ... 57521.html

Woman charged with a felony after putting tape recorder in her child's backpack to try to expose bullying ... -1.3651288

One example is a charging someone with discharging a firearm and then murder when the bullet hits somebody, and then on top of that another charge of using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

The government can charge a defendant with both a crime and the conspiracy to commit that crime.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said this is not a violation of double jeopardy. ... &invol=378

This gives the government two separate opportunities to convict for essentially the same offense.

Another problem is that in many cases judges have used their discretionary sentencing powers to punish people who committed minor crimes for other more serious crimes a jury did not find them guilty of. Because even small crimes can carry long potential sentences. In 2007, after being convicted for selling half an ounce of crack (worth $600), a federal judge in Washington D.C. sentenced a man named Antwuan Ball to 18 years in prison for this reason. ... drug-deal/

College student committed suicide because he faced potential 35 year sentence for making academic articles available to his fellow students without paying for them

"The suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who faced felony charges at the time of his death that could have sent him to prison for 35 years, has provoked an outpouring of debate about the power of government prosecutors. Swartz had been charged with 13 felonies for using his laptop to download academic articles through the school's computer network. According to Swartz's lawyer, the federal prosecutor's office offered the 26-year-old a deal that would have required him to plead guilty on all counts in exchange for a six-month prison sentence."

Can juries tame prosecutors gone wild? ... story.html

Charged with five different criminal statutes just for refusing to get out of her seat

A woman on a plane complained that she had life-threatening allergies and was having trouble breathing. There were two dogs in the cabin and she demanded that they be removed. Instead, the flight crew demanded that she leave. She stubbornly refused to get up out of her seat and officers had to enter the plane to make her move. One of them wrapped his hands around her waist and another grabbed her leg, and her pants ripped when they tried to physically move her. The incident was caught on cellphone video.
She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, disturbing the peace, obstructing and hindering a police officer and resisting arrest. ... story.html

Sentenced for two different felonies for the same criminal act

A Connecticut man named Tony Moreno threw his 7-month-old son off a bridge at the same time he was jumping off to commit suicide. Moreno survived after emergency crews received a call from the boy's mother, who said that Moreno was suicidal, and responded to the scene. Two days passed before someone reported finding the child's body downstream. The prosecutor charged Moreno with murder and risk of injury to a minor. The judge sentenced him to 60 years for the murder charge and 10 years for risk of injury to a minor, to be served consecutively, for a total of 70 years. ... 62724.html

Now I'm not going to argue whether the man deserved 70 years for what he did, that's a little bit besides the point here.
But is it really appropriate to charge someone with both "risk of injury to a minor" when they're also being charged with the murder of that same person? He's basically being charged with two different criminal statutes for what is the same act.

All this man did was buy an orchid. For that he faced multiple felony counts and was forced to accept a plea bargain from the prosecutor for a one and a half year prison sentence.

Orchid Kingpin? Mistake Lands Elderly Gardener in Prison

Stacking Charges forces the Innocent to Plead Guilty
http://www.citizensforcriminaljustice.n ... ad-guilty/

Charged with multiple felonies because charitable donation was perceived to be a "bribe"

In 1999, a health care corporation CEO named Richard M. Scrushy made a $500,000 donation to a charitable cause, the creation of a state lottery, the proceeds of which would be used to fund the public school system. This was a cause which governor Siegelman championed. The pro-lottery campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.
Later that year, Siegelman appointed Scrushy to the CON board, a state panel that decides if state hospitals may add more services.
The prosecutor argued that the donation constituted a bribe of a public official. Out of this one alleged act, they charged Siegelman with violation of the federal bribery statute, a criminal conspiracy, violation of honest services mail fraud statute, and extortion. To top it off, because the indictment fashioned the conduct as a racketeering enterprise, the defendants were subject to the extremely harsh penalties and fines under the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization law.
There were numerous problems with the prosecutor's case. Scrushy had gained nothing from the alleged bribe. He had already served in an uncompensated position on the CON board before. Yet despite this, the prosecution was still able to convince the jury that Siegelman had violated the laws. The judge in the case demonstrated his hostility against Siegelman throughout the trial, perhaps because he had political motivations to see the governor removed from office. Governor Siegelman sat in prison for 6 years before a Court of Appeals finally reversed the conviction.
The problem was that the laws were so broadly worded that it was possible to convince a jury that otherwise completely innocuous conduct constituted violation of not just one law, but several. Combined with the emotional argument of a manipulative prosecutor who was able to sway the jury, and a biased judge who was all too happy to see the governor convicted. Alabama lawyer Jill Simpson later admitted to congressional investigators that she had been involved in a plot, orchestrated by U.S. attorneys in different districts of Alabama, to remove governor Siegelman from office through indictment. Siegelman himself described the case as an "abuse of power".
In this case, the huge amount of discretionary power wielded by the prosecutor was able to be misused against a political opponent. Governor Siegelman was convicted in 2006, so this case is relatively recent, and though he has now been temporarily released from prison, the appeal process in the case is still ongoing.

Woman charged with 7 different felonies for abandoning her handicap child

A woman left her 21 year old quadriplegic son unattended in the woods for 5 days. While obviously absolutely terrible, just have a look at the list of things she was charged with:
aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment, neglect of a care-dependent person, unlawful restraint, kidnapping and false imprisonment. ... 86591.html

If we actually stop to take an impartial look at the charges, this is just ridiculous. There should not be so many different laws (each carrying their own punishment) that apply to the same act. Seems many people are simply willing to look the other way because they believe "criminals should be punished".

Sentenced to three different felonies for Facebook posts trying to meet an underage girl

A 20-year-old in Illinois was arrested for sending a message to a 14-year-old girl on the internet to meet to have sex.
The 14-year-old girl accepted a Facebook friend request from the boy. The boy then sent the girl a sexually explicit message and requested to meet the girl for sex. The girl told her father who then contacted police. The police then assumed control of the girl’s Facebook account and arranged to meet the suspect later that day. The boy was then arrested when he went to try to meet the girl.
Out of what was basically this one act he was charged with indecent solicitation of a child, a Class 3 felony; solicitation to meet a child, a Class 4 felony; and one count grooming, a Class 4 felony. His bond was set at $200,000.
Let's remember that all this boy did was make a proposition for a girl, who was 6 years younger, to have sex with him. And then he went to try to meet this girl.

Man charged with 43 different criminal counts for what he had in his home

A man has been arrested and charged with 43 counts arising from the possession of methamphetamines, and illegal possession of weapons and gunpowder, Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey announced. John Butterfield, 55, was arrested at his home on Sept. 11, 2013.

Investigator Joseph Celentano and members of the of the task force developed information to secure a warrant to search Butterfield’s home, which is located in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Edison.

During the search, police uncovered 31 weapons, including shotguns, handguns, rifles and two silencers. In addition, police found 78 grams of methamphetamines, and an undetermined amount of gunpowder.

Butterfield was charged with possession of methamphetamines, possession with intent to distribute, possession of more than ½ ounce of the controlled dangerous substance, possession within a school zone and possession within 500 feet of a public library.

He also was charged with violating a law that prohibits convicted felons from owning weapons and was charged with 31 counts of unlawful possession of each of the weapons.

In addition, Butterfield was charged with two counts of possessing the silencers, which are prohibited devices in New Jersey, and three counts of possessing hollow-point bullets.

He also was charged with risking widespread damage or injury by possessing the gunpowder. The amount of gun powder has yet to be determined, but allegedly was significant enough to cause concern for the surrounding residential area. ... gunpowder/

Do you really think someone should spend 30+ years of their life in prison just for possessing things? This man did not hurt anyone.
And I doubt there was really a "dangerous amount" of gunpowder. They were probably just looking for anything extra they could charge him with.

As for being a past 'convicted felon', all sorts of things are classified as felonies now, as some of the above cases demonstrate, so this doesn't necessarily mean he was a bad man.
How long do you think that man should spend in prison? Because with all those 43 charges, this man could potentially be sentenced to several lifetimes of prison, under the law.
Man who robbed bank with fake bomb convicted of 9 different felony counts

A man robbed a bank with a fake bomb. For that he was charged on nine felony counts including aggravated assault, robbery, threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction, and on top of all that, he was also charged with possessing a facsimile weapon of mass destruction.
The man was not even carrying a real weapon with him.

Man Robs Bank Using Sex Toy Disguised As Bomb, Police Say , HuffPost ... 96934.html

Sometimes, when there are multiple charges, the judge will make the sentences run concurrently, the idea being the criminal will serve all those sentences for the different charges at the same time instead of them all adding together.
That's what this man thought: ... error.html

After robbing two video stores, he pled guilty and was sentenced to what he thought was a 16 year sentence. He was released after 10 years and began piecing back together his life. Six years later after being released, he was informed the court had made a clerical error and he had been mistakenly released. The numerous charges would not run concurrently, and he had to serve 98 years in prison!

This is a comment left by someone who was in law enforcement:

"It was the policy of my department and state's attorney, to file all appropriate charges. This not only gave the defense a more difficult task, but also allowed for some bargaining room on both sides. For example, I once pursued a guy at over 100 mph., through 4 different towns, and he ran red lights and stop signs all the way. I had to write citations for 12 separate violations of the vehicle code, and he was convicted on 7 of them. Again, it depends on state/local law, as well as the charges, judged on the severity of each on it's own."

Just a hypothetical question to consider: What if it was a long distance pursuit and the person ran through 100 stop lights? Yes, the guy should be charged with fleeing from police and running through a stop sign, but in a long-distance pursuit, is it really appropriate to charge him with every stop sign he drove through? That would seem a little ridiculous and excessive to me. Imagine how much punishment that could potentially be.

The issue I am trying to point out was defendants being charged with three or four different charges for the same exact crime. There are so many laws now, which were passed at different times, that many of the different laws overlap, in ways that those who passed the laws probably never really thought about or anticipated.

Imagine if they passed a law giving judges the power to sentence people to 50 years in prison for committing the tiniest little crime.
But apparently no one cares when it is in the form of multiple separate laws.

This is the type of thing that could be used against political opponents, in less democratic countries.
The defendant does not even need to commit a crime, they just have to concoct "evidence" that one of countless different laws might have been broken, and then they can basically send the accused away to prison for a long time just for that. This is bad law, and potentially leaves the door open for abuse.

When a prosecutor abuses their power, do they ever get held responsible?
I mean, all these potential charges are part of the law, after all, so it's not really as if the prosecutor is actually breaking the law. Just behaving very unethically.

It is often said that the country should run on laws and not by men, but with the types of laws that exist it is really being run by men.
Last edited by Puffer Fish on 26 Oct 2019 19:55, edited 1 time in total.
Here's one more example:

Owner of iconic Olathe barbecue restaurant facing multiple identity theft charges
On Monday, Matthew R. Sander was charged with nine felonies and six misdemeanors for allegedly misusing a customer's credit card in January.

Sander, 54, is the owner of Smokin' Joe's Bar-B-Q, a fixture on Santa Fe Street near the Johnson County Courthouse since 1989.

He was charged Monday in Johnson County District Court with seven counts of identity theft, six counts of misdemeanor theft, and single counts of felony theft and criminal use of a financial card. ... 67304.html

15 different criminal charges for 1 crime.

It looks like he was struggling financially, already facing charges for defrauding a previous customer, in addition to shoplifting merchandise from Sam's Club. But that's not the point here. The point is that the law allows a prosecutor to charge someone with 15 different charges for charging a customer's credit card more money than he was supposed to. That's pretty much going to force defendants into a plea bargain, who in some cases it's possible they may not be actually be guilty.
" The most serious charge, making false statements to FEMA, carries a maximum sentence of 30 years " ... 266fb850b6

The trend with all these laws is to make everything illegal and allow judges to sentence people to as long as they think is right. That pretty much throws out the rule of law though.

This is something people should be very concerned with when it comes to civil liberties and individual rights.
Man sentenced to 885 years in prison for having computer files
jury never convicted him of anything else

One man was sentenced to 885 years in prison based only on computer files that were found in his laptop (even though the man was also suspected of doing other bad things and planning a murder). The law allowed the judge to sentence the man to 885 years based just on that, before the man even had a trial for the other bad things he was suspected of.

October 2015
Orlando Sentinel

A Seminole County judge Monday sentenced a Longwood man to 885 years in prison for possessing "massive" amounts of child pornography, officials said.
Shawn Ryan Thomas, 32, is also accused of plotting a sex attack on a 9-year-old girl and planning the slayings of the girl and her parents.

Monday's sentencing was only for child pornography. He was convicted in June of 60 counts of possessing child pornography.
Each count carried a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, which Judge Marlene Alva sentenced Thomas to for 59 of the counts. He was sentenced to 15 years of sex offender probation for the last count.

Investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said they found 60 images of child porn on a computer that was on Thomas' bed the day he was arrested. Some of those images were videos.
Jurors deliberated for three hours, but determined the laptop belonged to Thomas and not one of his roommates, as Thomas' lawyer argued.
A confidential informant tipped off investigators to Thomas, after he talked about his plan to lure a 9-year-old girl and her parents to his house under the thought he was a filmmaker. He would then kill her parents, video-record himself raping the girl and then kill her, documents state.
A trial date hadn't yet been set for the other charges. ... story.html

Some of you might argue that this was a bad man and that a life sentence was appropriate.
But that's not the point here. The point is he was sentenced to life in prison without being tried for all those other bad things he was accused of that would justify a life sentence. The court only needed to convict him of having something on his laptop to be allowed under the law to impose a life sentence.

At the time he was sentenced, this man had never even been informed who the witness was accusing him of planning a future crime.

It doesn't take much thought to see how this may not have been a fair trial.

Let me try to frame this in a different way, just in case anyone does not see the problem:

Imagine you are just minding your own business when police enter your house and arrest you. They say you are charged with attempted murder. By the time you are brought in front of a judge, police say they found something illegal in your house. Now you are also being charged with illegal possession. This despite the fact you have roommates. At the trial the prosecutor claims in front of the judge and jury there is a witness who says you told them you were going to murder someone. But they do not show you this witness or tell you who the witness is. The jury finds you guilty of possessing something illegal because the police said they found something in your house. In this trial you were only being charged with and convicted of possessing something illegal, and that illegal thing was just computer files on an ordinary laptop. The judge then sentences you to life in prison.

I'm not saying this man did not do what he was accused of doing, but it wouldn't be that hard to frame someone.
The problem is the law allows them to do this, sentence the man to life in prison with limited evidence actually having to be openly presented in the trial. (It doesn't take that much evidence to convict someone of possession charges, it's mostly just something was found in a certain place)

What if, for example, that man just had a very dark sense of humor and was joking with the witness, trying to frighten him or just seeing if the other man would approve? The evidence that he was actually planning to do the things he was accused of is not the strongest.
Maybe that's why they sentenced him to 885 years in prison for the pornographic computer files, because they thought they might not be able to win the attempted murder charge in a trial.
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