How prosecutors use charge stacking to push defendants into pleading guilty

Discussion in 'Law & Justice' started by kazenatsu, Mar 13, 2021.

  1. kazenatsu

    kazenatsu Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    A prosecutor will often charge a defendant with multiple similar different laws, which basically turns one crime into many crimes.
    Then the defendant faces the potential possibility of a long time in prison, even if the crime itself does not deserve anywhere near that amount of prison time.
    The defendant is scared, so agrees to enter into a plea bargain and plead guilty, with the understanding that the prosecutor will take it easier on them in the courtroom with the judge, or drop some of the charges.

    This is the main reason why such a small percentage of cases ever go to trial.
    Even many innocent people plead guilty.

    It's basically how the justice system operates. There are too many people and it would require too many resources and be too difficult to hold a trial for all of them.

    Here is one example of this:

    Boyd Allen Camp was one of the protesters who stormed the US capitol building. The only real evidence against Camp was him captured in a short segment on video being inside the capitol building, and a witness who said that he took part in the storming of the capitol building. So the evidence indicates he was unlawfully inside the capitol building but does not really show any specific conduct he otherwise did.

    Boyd Allen Camper was charged with:
    (1) one count of 18 U.S.C. 1752(a)(1) (entering and remaining in a restricted building)
    (2) one count of 18 U.S.C. 1752(a)(2) (disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building)
    (3) one count of 40 U.S.C. 5104(e)(2)(D) (violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building)
    (4) one count of 40 U.S.C. 5104(e)(2)(G) (parading, demonstrating or picketing in any of the Capitol Buildings.)

    Each law carries a maximum of one year in prison, so combined together they carry a maximum of four years in prison.

    Even though all four of these separate laws are basically being used against him for what was basically the same criminal action.

    'We're Going to Take This Damn Place': Capitol Hill Insurrectionist Who Bragged to the Media is Charged With Multiple Crimes, Colin Kalmbacher, March 13, 2021, MSN News
    ‘We’re Going to Take This Damn Place’: Capitol Hill Insurrectionist Who Bragged to the Media is Charged With Multiple Crimes (msn.com)

    Obviously that was not the intent of these laws. But there are an endless number of laws on the books, and very often many of them can be used to cover the same criminal action.
    Judges usually take this into account, but the point is, there is the potential for a defendant to be sentenced to a very long time in prison for something that was not really that bad, and it would be perfectly legal under the law.

    The thing is, multiple different laws are coming together in ways that the politicians who passed those laws never anticipated. These laws are supposed to have a statutory maximum - like if you break it, the judge can't sentence you to more than a certain amount of time. But the tactic of charge stacking completely bypasses that statutory minimum built into each law.

    It then becomes all up to the discretion of the judge, and the sentencing restrictions that were built into the (individual) laws no longer really operate to protect the defendant (or at least they will not if the judge does not want them to).
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2021
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  2. MJ Davies

    MJ Davies Well-Known Member

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    Sentencing laws aren't designed to "protect the defendant". They are there to (1) provide some form of punishment for the crime(s) committed and (2) protect the public from the defendant's criminal behavior (for a specific amount of time).
     
  3. FatBack

    FatBack Well-Known Member

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    I dont believe the OP argued that they were, at any point.
     
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  4. Capt Nice

    Capt Nice Well-Known Member

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    I've said this in other threads: "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime".
     
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  5. kazenatsu

    kazenatsu Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    If that's the case, then why specify a maximum of how much time in prison that law carries?
    Why not just leave the decision entirely up to the judge's discretion?

    And that's the key right there, "for a specific amount of time".
    Let's use some logic here.

    How much time should that be? And what is even the point of specifying how much time when the prosecutor can almost always tack on a whole bunch of other laws for the same crime?

    If this was not there to protect the defendant, then the only numbers that would be there would be minimum, or recommended numbers, not maximums.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2021
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  6. kazenatsu

    kazenatsu Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    In other words, you just ignore that the legal system (on this point) does not make systemic logical sense.

    Why not just remove the maximum sentence numbers altogether then?

    Are you okay with individuals getting huge amounts of punishment for very small crimes, even when there is a small chance they might not have done the crime?
     
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  7. Capt Nice

    Capt Nice Well-Known Member

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    Get over it. That was not a small crime. You can use all the words in any one's vocabulary and that won't change what happened.
     
  8. kazenatsu

    kazenatsu Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    It was just one example.

    The issue that is being discussed here does not all concern that one example.
     
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  9. btthegreat

    btthegreat Well-Known Member

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    What protects the defendant is a phrase and a number . All his attorney has to do is plant the seed of doubt in one of 12 jurors. The prosecutors has to erase that doubt in all 12. A smart lawyer is not to be bullied by charge stacking. A lazy or overwhelmed one lets his client be cowed.

    We need to fund that public attorney's office a lot better if we want this system to work as intended. Its the lack investigatory hours and expert witness fees that really screw a poor defendant.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2021
  10. DEFinning

    DEFinning Well-Known Member Donor

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    This is a good post, overall. But it isn't comprehensive, though you may not intend it to be. My quick point is that the judge, in most cases, holds a tremendous amount of discretion as to the punishing of a convicted person. The most common incentive for plea-deals, for example, is the prosecutor telling someone facing trial that, if they cooperate (which might mean all manner of things, including testifying against someone else) they will recommend a lower sentence, since judges frequently follow prosecutors' recommendations. But judges are under no compulsion to do so. The evidence you helpfully provide, to prove your own guilt beyond reasonable doubt, may wind up getting you no leniency, from the bench.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2021
  11. Hey Nonny Mouse

    Hey Nonny Mouse Well-Known Member

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    Plea bargaining is in conflict with the idea that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

    In a plea bargain, the defendant gets a lesser sentence in return for the prosecuting not having to prove them guilty.
     
  12. Chrizton

    Chrizton Well-Known Member

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    OK. Not that unusual, though I suspect that some of the charges are more to cover all possible defenses by creating lesser offenses than an effort to force a guilty plea in the scenario presented. One of the more common ones in the DWI/refusing a Breathalyzer coupling. In my state the court will convict you of one or the other, but not both so you are screwed either way if you refused. Another common one is writing a bad check because you can get two charges if it was at a store--uttering for the check and larceny for what you got with the check. There are a few gas stations in our area that are well-known for prosecuting people for bounced checks instead of just suing them or turning it over to a collection company.
     
  13. Eleuthera

    Eleuthera Well-Known Member Donor

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    The US criminal justice system as represented by DOJ is a joke. This case of Boyd Camper is another example of how.

    Some call it the Department of Just Us. They bring no charges against televised perjury by high government officials, but put Boyd Camper and Martha Stewart in jail for petty crimes.
     
  14. Pants

    Pants Well-Known Member

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    Indeed, the justice system in our country needs a major overhaul. It has become a game for those who work within it and things like 'prosecution rates' becomes more important than the victims of the system.

    With respect to the example provided in the OP, there are many who believe that piling on the charges can serve to complicate a successful prosecution. Thankfully, each charge is tried/adjudicated separately, but it can create massive confusion and a threat to the process.

    I am ALL for addressing our judicial system - top to bottom. I would say it should be a major priority.
     
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