Charge Stacking: Gambling with People’s Lives

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Scales-of-Justiceby Bill Pursell

There is a relatively new phrase in our legal system that is still heard all too rarely, but it should be a prime fear of all defendants who enter to the mercy of the courts. The phrase is “charge stacking”. These simple words are creating catastrophic effects in our court rooms. It is this phrase, or this practice of stacking which has enabled a 20 year old first time offender to receive 1,941 months (162 years) in prison without the possibility of parole, reported by Reuters – Tue, Jul 3, 2012.

The idea of charge stacking is simple. The method entails finding as many possible criminal counts to “stack” against the defendant in order to strengthen the core case of the prosecution. This is possible because the main deterrent against stacking charges is the law of double jeopardy. In Blockburger v. United States, the Supreme Court said the government may separately try and punish the defendant for two crimes if each crime contains an element that the other does not. Therefore double jeopardy is so weak a deterrent that a person can be convicted of ten counts of perjury when they were perjuring about one thing on ten different days.

With this in mind, one can see that a prosecutor can easily circumvent this law in order to lump, for example, drug offenses with conspiracy (some laws like this are broad and easily manipulated to fit many cases), gun use, money laundering, and a laundry list of other charges together. At first glance this may not seem so bad. After all, the criminal who gets taken down for serious drug crimes is probably guilty of these other charges and probably deserves punishment for them. When charge stacking is without limit, however, lesser criminals may suffer under the weight of this exorbitant practice.

In the case of Quartavious Davis (the 20 year old mentioned above) each of the numerous counts of indictment against him were counted as separate crimes. This made Davis, who had never before been charged with a crime, into a multiple offender in a single court case. Davis is now subject to sentences for each stacked charge and to mandatory sentencing guidelines.  Mandatory sentencing is a factor in Common Law whereby a court must impose a minimum amount of prison time on a defendant as predicated by precedent. Mandatory sentencing also revokes a judge’s discretionary powers, so he or she can’t reduce the sentence to match the severity of the crime or criminal.

Since prosecutors are looking to win cases, why wouldn’t they stack charges? There was a case about a goat farmer in California named Khalid Berny who was charged with 170 counts of misdemeanor. This farmer was charged on three separate occasions for every single goat that wondered off his land, totaling the 170 separate charges. The punishment for this crime was a fine of $102 per goat, or $17,340, and 60 years in prison. It is also relevant to note that Mr. Berny was never warned by animal control and was hospitalized during the last goat escape incident, but stacking isn’t bound by common sense. Certainly William J Stuntz, a criminal justice scholar and professor at Harvard Law, doesn’t see any boundary to this practice,“We are likely to come ever closer to a world in which the law on the books makes everyone a felon and in which prosecutors and the police both define the law on the street and decide who has violated it.”

Stacking charges is very tantalizing for prosecutors. This is especially true when a public servant such as a District Attorney has to prove him/herself to the public. All prosecutors are looking to improve their “courtroom stats” to gain reputation, and stacking increases wins because it is more difficult to defend a large number of charges. Adding more counts will increase the chances of a lengthy and very expensive legal battle, which many defendants cannot afford, and large number of counts can simply make a defendant appear guiltier. All of this pressure can be leveraged onto innocent defendants causing them to believe it is in their best interest to plea-bargain even if they are innocent rather than chance losing in open court.

What about our legislature? Why haven’t they attempted to curb this practice? Richard McAdams writes in his paper, The Political Economy of Criminal Law and Procedure: the Pessimists’ View, legislatures tend to care about their constituent’s preferences, which is generally more concerned with proper punishment of heinous crimes, than the content of criminal statutes. Plus, police and prosecutors have a strong lobby for expanding criminal liability. That is why legislatures write broad statutes that make it easier to punish particular individuals even though the statutes also allow for the punishment of conduct that legislatures do not want to be penalized. In short, almost nothing is being done on capital hill to assuage this problem.

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61 thoughts on “Charge Stacking: Gambling with People’s Lives”

  1. Mr.Toad

    Still on that goat thing, the Vanguard never forgets. What was the disposition of the case? Didn’t reason prevail? And what was Mr. Davis’ crime why not tell? Could it be that his crimes make him unsympathetic?

  2. Fight Against Injustice

    I remember reading:

    “As an elected or appointed official, the prosecutor is the most powerful official in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors exercise unfettered discretion, deciding who to charge with a crime, what charges to file, when to drop the charges, whether or not to plea bargain, and how to allocate prosecutorial resources. In jurisdictions where the death penalty is in force, the prosecutor literally decides who should live and who should die by virtue of the charging decision.”

    This is an important concept to keep in mind when you are talking about the policy of charge stacking–this gives them another advantage.

  3. medwoman

    [quote]This is an important concept to keep in mind when you are talking about the policy of charge stacking–this gives them another advantage. [/quote]

    And another reason that I do not believe that our adversarial system, with the prosecutors office frequently serving as a means of political career building serves justice especially for those not financially or psychologically equipped to hire adequate defense.

  4. Fight Against Injustice

    jonruth: The young man in Florida may or may not have committed those robberies over a three month period (the jury will decide), but if they find him guilty, then does the sentence of life without parole fit the crime?

    Mandatory sentencing and charge stacking put together sometimes doesn’t make sense. If a judge is allowed to sentence as he/she sees fit then this charge stacking by the prosecution in the courts might be able to be overcome.

    But charge stacking is still going to affect those people that are not financially or psychologically equipped as medwoman points out. It will also affect those on the jury that might prejudge someone based on a huge amount of counts.

  5. Fight Against Injustice

    Mr. Toad: The goat story does make an obvious abuse of the charge stacking policy, but here are a couple more cases I can remember that were on the Vanguard.

    1. The Noori Case – three boys were charged for 21 counts each for a rape from one night at a party. They luckily were found innocent by the jury after they spent nearly 1 million dollars in court costs. But what I cannot figure out is how to you get 21 counts each (63 counts total) for one incident?

    2. A man was charged for breaking a window at an abandoned house. The prosecutor wanted to put him away for life on the three strikes rule. His first strike was for stealing something and he paid the penalty. The second strike was for breaking the window in the abandoned house. The third strike was for breaking a window at the jail as they brought him in. They wanted to put this guy away for life. Later it was found out that this person had not taken his meds and was acting that because of it. He still got 7 years, but for life….seriously for breaking a window?

    This is why stacking can be dangerous. Let the sentence fit the crime.

  6. Mr Obvious

    It appears Mr Davis was arrested for robbing seven fast food restaurants with a gun. The other six codefendants took peal deals of 22 years and testified against Davis. I’m willing to bet Davis was offered a plea deal and didn’t take it. You gotta know when to fold em’.

    Mr Purcell conveniently left the specifics out of his opinion piece about Mr Davis. I guess if Davis is the example I was going to use I wouldn’t want to give everyone the specifics. I would not want ask for lenience for a guy who on seven separate occasions made a conscious decision to take a gun into a business and rob people. Who knows how many people he victimized. I would imagine the victims will have some life long effects from having a robber point a gun at them.

    If you want to talk about cheese thieves this is the time. People who point guns at other people and takes the property of another, over and over and over and over and over and over and over are not good examples.

    Are we against charge stacking for people who rape three year olds. Ever time a man sodomizes a little boy it’s a new charge. If it happens every day for two months that’s 60 counts and a a billion year sentence. I think the Vanguard should lead the way in asking the that law to be changed.

  7. David M. Greenwald


    If you want to talk about cheese thieves this is the time. People who point guns at other people and takes the property of another, over and over and over and over and over and over and over are not good examples.”

    Actually I think that is precisely what the discussion needs to be about. Because people who steal cheese I think are an easy case for most people. The question really needs to be whether you think someone who steals with a gun but does not harm anyone deserves no chance to make amends for their crimes and put their life on the right path.

  8. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]The question really needs to be whether you think someone who steals with a gun but does not harm anyone deserves no chance to make amends for their crimes and put their life on the right path.[/quote]

    If the defendant brought the gun, the assumption by the law is that s/he intended to use it if s/he felt it necessary. The idea is to deter criminals from bringing guns to the scene of a robbery.

  9. E Roberts Musser

    From wikipedia:[quote]“Charge stacking” is a process by which police and prosecutors create case with numerous charges or numerous instances of the same charge to convince the defendant that the risk of not pleading guilty is intolerable. [b]The defendant may be convinced to plead guilty to a few of the charges in return for not being prosecuted for the remaining charges.[/b]
    The courtroom workgroup is, in some sense, a response to a lack of resources for public defenders. Defense attorneys in public defender offices often do not have sufficient time to prepare a case in detail for all of their clients. Further, they often do not have the budget to fully investigate the facts of a case through either staff or private investigators. They often must rely solely on police reports for such information. In some jurisdictions, clients do not meet their attorneys until they are in court. Typically, public defenders will meet briefly with clients in holding facilities or jails. The defense attorney defends his or her client by seeking less punishment. Huemann (1977) indicates that many defense attorneys feel pressured to keep up with their caseloads. [/quote]

  10. E Roberts Musser

    Also note: [url]http://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/how-is-stacking–i-e—overlapping-crimes-charges–813992.html[/url]

    [quote][b]A person can be charged with multiple crimes BUT only punished for EACH event.[/b] That is the general rule and there are exceptions. Read Penal Code 654 for more information. Its a very complex area and court interpretations make it difficult to internalize which crimes can give you punishment multiple times and which ones you cannot get the same type of double punishment. [/quote]

  11. David M. Greenwald

    “The defendant may be convinced to plead guilty to a few of the charges in return for not being prosecuted for the remaining charges. “

    There are a couple of problems with what you have posted. First, it assumes that the DA will offer a reasonable deal. Second, it assumes the defendant is guilty rather than factually innocent.

  12. David M. Greenwald

    “The author of this article needs to do more research on the subject…”

    So do you…

    “A person can be charged with multiple crimes BUT only punished for EACH event. “

    You are assuming the complaint is that the prosecutor charges multiple elements within the same crime. The complaint is that they have often found ways to charge multiple separate crimes not subject to 654. A good example of this was Bennie Moses. They charged four elements of the same crime but also charged a separate crime for each act every six months. Not every prosecutor does it that way. The result is that while the multiple elements were sentenced concurrently, the separate crimes were sentenced consecutively leading to an 800 year sentence – longer than if he had just killed his daughter.

    Another example, the goat man was charged for each goat. 654 doesn’t apply to that.

  13. Nemesis

    I see the same people saying the same thing in response to every article. It doesn’t seem like they actually READ the articles printed but just want to spew the same political “tough on crime” , ‘lock them up and throw away the key” agenda. The message for most of these articles on the Vanguard Court Watch is that there is a problem with the legal system, let’s debate it and help change it.

    This article is asking the fair question: Is it right to put a 20 year old behind bars for the rest of his life without the possibility of parol? To say that people can’t redeem themselves is off base. Many people that have committed murder, have been released and live a life away free of crime. People change throughout their lives, as I am sure all the commenters on this blog have.

    The people that run our prison systems know they are broken and don’t deter crime. Helping people behind bars reform is what incarceration should be about. When ridiculous sentences of hundreds of years are given out it shows how broken the whole thing is.

  14. Mr Obvious

    A person who robs a store once and doesn’t hurt anyone MAY have some redeeming qualities. Someone who does it over and over and over and over over a period of time has NO redeeming qualities. I have no problem keeping them away from society for life. Violent criminals reoffend and create more victims. No sympathy for a 20 year old who has compassion for others and is willing to take the property of another at the end of the gun.

    I value the victims and likely future victims more than the criminals.

  15. David M. Greenwald

    “I value the victims and likely future victims more than the criminals.”

    I see no reason you can’t value victims more than the criminals and still favor a more reasonable system of punishment.

    Annecdotally, I have spoken to a number of wardens and people who work with inmates, and at some point, especially for those who committed crimes in their youth, they don’t resemble the people who committed the original crime.

    That is backed up with the data I posted last week as to where the arrest and conviction rate falls with age.

    So one of the problems is that we lock people up well beyond the point where they are a threat to society. The problem with three strikes is usually once they get the third strike, they are at the point where they were unlikely to commit future crimes.

    The result is that we spend huge chunks of resources for health care and housing of people who might not be particular threats to the system.

  16. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]There are a couple of problems with what you have posted. First, it assumes that the DA will offer a reasonable deal. Second, it assumes the defendant is guilty rather than factually innocent.[/quote]

    You are the one making assumptions. All the explanation is doing is giving the reasoning behind why there is a general policy of “charge-stacking” – to get defendants to agree to plea deals, to cut down on court trials. You and I have had this discussion before. If every case were tried, it would literally take years for a case to ever come to trial. Now we can argue all day long about the “fairness” of plea deals (and in my opinion it needs some serious reform, which I have said repeatedly), but charge-stacking is a technique primarily used for the purpose of encouraging plea deals rather than have every case go to trial.

  17. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]erm: “The author of this article needs to do more research on the subject…”

    dmg: So do you…[/quote]

    Yes, this author does need to do more research, to better understand the policy implications of why certain practices are in place. He is taking a very narrow view of a practice that has much wider implications. Let’s suppose for one crime we only allowed one charge. How do you think such a policy would work out?

  18. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Another example, the goat man was charged for each goat. 654 doesn’t apply to that.[/quote]

    What you and the author fail to understand, among many things, is that: the judge during sentencing has the option to run sentences concurrently; the jury can throw out a lot of the charges, etc. There are a number of checks and balances in the legal system. Bottom line: what was the outcome of the goat case? A 60 year sentence? No, the case was dropped.

  19. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]This article is asking the fair question: Is it right to put a 20 year old behind bars for the rest of his life without the possibility of parol? To say that people can’t redeem themselves is off base. Many people that have committed murder, have been released and live a life away free of crime. People change throughout their lives, as I am sure all the commenters on this blog have. [/quote]

    [quote]So one of the problems is that we lock people up well beyond the point where they are a threat to society. The problem with three strikes is usually once they get the third strike, they are at the point where they were unlikely to commit future crimes.
    [/quote]

    The point you are both missing is that this discussion is not all about the defendants/criminals. It is also about the victims/future victims. It is also about deterrence. It is also about justice for victims. There are different rationales for sentencing – punishment, deterrence, sense of justice. Many feel rehabilitation should be dependent on the type of crime and its heinousness.

    Now think about this. Suppose your child were murdered in a drive-by shooting. The killer intended the victim to be someone else, but your child just happened to get in the way. How much sympathy will you have for the killer to rehabilitate his life? Now perhaps you would, but many others feel it is far safer to lock such a killer up for life than ever let him out again to do this to someone else’s child. The child got a death sentence, so why shouldn’t the killer at least be put away for life? Can you honestly face the family of the dead child and insist you are right about rehabilitation for such a killer and they are wrong? Why do you feel your viewpoint is paramount over theirs?

    Let’s take a specific example. There was a case of road rage. The defendant was “cut off” in traffic by a couple, a young man and woman. The man was driving. The enraged defendant pulled alongside the car on the passenger side, pulled out a gun, and shot at the driver, but hit the female passenger instead, killing her instantly. The killer was interviewed in prison. He emphatically said he would do it all over again if given the chance, because he had been “cut off” and the couple “deserved it”. No one ounce of remorse. Do you really think someone like that is rehabilitatable? I would argue this sociopath is right where he belongs – behind bars where he can’t kill innocent people on the road just because he gets mad at something they may have done/not done.

  20. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]The result is that we spend huge chunks of resources for health care and housing of people who might not be particular threats to the system.[/quote]

    Now this is an interesting statement. Are you advocating turning prisoners loose who are too old, sick and frail to be a danger to others, to just “fend for themselves”? Isn’t that tantamount to a “death sentence”?

  21. David M. Greenwald

    “What you and the author fail to understand, among many things, is that: the judge during sentencing has the option to run sentences concurrently; the jury can throw out a lot of the charges, etc.”

    Actually in most cases he does not have that discretion.

  22. David M. Greenwald

    “Are you advocating turning prisoners loose who are too old, sick and frail to be a danger to others, to just “fend for themselves”? “

    No. I’m advocating taking statistical analysis such as this into account when sentences are set.

  23. David M. Greenwald

    “charge-stacking is a technique primarily used for the purpose of encouraging plea deals rather than have every case go to trial.”

    I disagree. If it were, then the prosecution would make reasonable offers that the defense would accept.

  24. David M. Greenwald

    “Yes, this author does need to do more research, to better understand the policy implications of why certain practices are in place. “

    And so do you.

  25. Nemesis

    The fact that the DA initially charged Khalid Berny with one count per goat that escaped is stacking charges, it is ridiculous to threaten the guy with 60 years in prison for escaped goats. Who was hurt here? This used to be referred to as a petty crime with a citation and NO prison time. Of course this case was dismissed, the question is why was he threatened with a prison sentence in the first place?

    Now this is an interesting statement. Are you advocating turning prisoners loose who are too old, sick and frail to be a danger to others, to just “fend for themselves”? Isn’t that tantamount to a “death sentence”?

    Are you saying that being in prison is preferable to not being in prison? Or are you saying people that are to old, sick and frail and can’t fend for themselves should be in prison?

  26. Nemesis

    I value the victims and likely future victims more than the criminals.

    Obviously, I think that is something we all can agree on. It still doesn’t mean criminals can’t be redeemed and don’t have anything positive to offer society after a fair sentence.

  27. Fight Against Injustice

    ERM and Obvious: Are you ok with charge stacking if it is a non-violent crime? It happens there too. You have cited 3 year olds being raped and murderers. Don’t you think common sense in the legal system should come into play?

    When laws regarding staciking were put into place, they didn’t anticipate that some prosecutors would abuse them.. Just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right.

  28. Nemesis

    FAI is correct when mentioning that a laws intention and what happens in some communities can be very different. I don’t think most people think that loose goats and stealing cheese should be considered life terms. Nor that first time offenders on a night time theft spree should spend the rest of their lives behind bars. Stacking charges is wrong no matter what the crime. Prosecutors seem to stack charges when cases are weak, especially in cases of rape and abuse. They try to make the suspect look as reprehensible as possible. If the case has merit in the evidence prosecutors wouldn’t have to stack the charges, especially in cases involving children. They try to prejudice juries and if that person happens to be found guilty but is innocent, then someone else is really walking free. Stacking charges only hurts everyone.

  29. medwoman

    [quote]The courtroom workgroup is, in some sense, a response to a lack of resources for public defenders. Defense attorneys in public defender offices often do not have sufficient time to prepare a case in detail for all of their clients. Further, they often do not have the budget to fully investigate the facts of a case through either staff or private investigators. They often must rely solely on police reports for such information. In some jurisdictions, clients do not meet their attorneys until they are in court. [/quote]

    If this is true, then the answer to me would seem to be not to stack charges, but rather to provide adequate resources, pay and time to the public defenders. I fail to see how not providing adequate resources for a defense in any represents justice, if that is in fact what we are seeking.

  30. medwoman

    [quote]What you and the author fail to understand, among many things, is that: the judge during sentencing has the option to run sentences concurrently; the jury can throw out a lot of the charges, etc. There are a number of checks and balances in the legal system. Bottom line: what was the outcome of the goat case? A 60 year sentence? No, the case was dropped.[/quote]

    It seems to me that all of those checks and balances, and all of the investigation, and all of whatever went into this case involving who knows how much time and money, would all have been unnecessary if the charge stacking had not been an option in the first place. So how much time and money was spent on a case in which the case was dropped , rightfully it would seem, dropped. Would it not have been better for the case not to have been brought in the first place ?

  31. JustSaying

    Bill Pursell, thanks for pulling together this article. It would help to know why you wrote this and what your background is. Are you involved in law enforcement or in courts? Do you have some personal experience?

    I think the case you cited is more an indictment of mandatory sentencing than of “charge stacking.” Although it’s difficult to know because Reuters couldn’t seem to get anyone to provide details about the case, it appears the defendant had undertaken at least seven armed robberies, including at least two in which he actually fired his gun (engaging in a gunfight in one). So, the prosecutor brought seven armed robbery charges (or, “possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence”) against him–how many charges would have been appropriate, in your opinion?

    Should investigators have stopped making thorough evaluations after they came up a couple of charges? Should the prosecutor have picked just five of the robberies to pursue? Or, three? Or, one? What if the jury decided the one procecuted wasn’t proven “beyond reasonable doubt”?

    I don’t see how we can expect prosecutors to “back off” and not charge crimes just because Congress or legislatures pass mandatory sentences that seem unduly harsh when they end up being applied consecutively because a criminal gets caught doing an unusually high number of crimes before he’s apprehended.

    Long sentences and mandatory, consecutive sentences are law because people want violent, serial criminals kept in prison and to deter others from undertaking such a life of crime. I’m afraid your upset is misdirected; this problem essentially could be corrected by giving judges discretion to sentence habitual or serial criminals based on their individual situations.

    Instead of acknowledging the real reasons defendants find themselves facing multiple charges–not the least of which, of course, is that they’ve chosen to commit many crimes–you’ve come up with the old generalizations and stereotypes of “very tantalizing” reasons for prosecutors to “stack charges.” (“Why wouldn’t they…?”)

    As long as people commit multiple crimes, prosecutors will apply multiple charges, juries will find them guilty of each crime they’ve commited and judges will sentence them for each crime of which they’ve been found guilty.

  32. medwoman

    [quote]Long sentences and mandatory, consecutive sentences are law because people want violent, serial criminals kept in prison and to deter others from undertaking such a life of crime.[/quote]

    I think that you have nicely summarized a slightly off topic, but clearly related problem. I agree that this is what voters want. But too often, as in the “goat” case, and the third strike for stealing a bag of cheese,
    the unintended consequences are what are so far from the original intent as to be ludicrous, and certainly very costly regardless of whether or not Elaine’s cited checks and balances ultimately result in a more just outcome, or whether we end up supporting in our prison system, sometimes for life individuals whose acts do not even approach the intent of “wanting violent, serial criminals kept in prison…”

  33. JustSaying

    “Third strike” convictions for stealing cheese or similar “ludicrous…unintended consequence” cases are hardly common and certainly are not “very costly” cases. They usually are self-limiting or, as in the case you’ve cited, go away with a minimum of publicity or defense effort. In this way, Elaine’s observations are accurate and very much to the point.

    The offender under discussion here committed a half-dozen violent crimes, just the type of crimes for which mandatory sentences were designed–and hardly off-topic, in my opinion. Yes, it’s costly to investigate, prosecute and punish/rehabilitate/deter criminals who choose to engage in such violence and do it over and over. This is the price we pay to assure that those who end up in prison for long terms, including life, are the ones the law intends to be given such sentences.

    The question is what would you have done before Mr. Davis’s sentences were imposed to assure that his sentence was appropriate to his crimes. I agree that the mandatory sentencing law that resulted in a total incarceration that’s beyond reason. I don’t see any way to correct that except to return to judges’ discretion the sentencing of all criminals, including serial killers and robbers.

    It’s misguided to blame the prosecutor in this case for charging Mr. Davis with the armed robberies he committed. Blame Congress and the perpetrator.

  34. Nemesis

    “”Third strike” convictions for stealing cheese or similar “ludicrous…unintended consequence” cases are hardly common and certainly are not “very costly” cases. “

    Except third strike convictions were not meant to be dealt out for one crime spree consisting of more than one crime, which does happen a lot. Third strike convictions were meant to deter serial criminals. Prosecutors stacking charges does happen to try to get the longest conviction possible.

    Minor criminals committing third strike offenses like the “cheese thief” do happen more often than what gets written in the press about them.

  35. Nemesis

    Just Saying-“Bill Pursell, thanks for pulling together this article. It would help to know why you wrote this and what your background is. Are you involved in law enforcement or in courts? Do you have some personal experience? “

    What does this matter? The topic is very interesting and makes for good discussion. Do you always ask what the background of reporters? How is that important?

  36. Nemesis

    “Should investigators have stopped making thorough evaluations after they came up a couple of charges? Should the prosecutor have picked just five of the robberies to pursue? Or, three? Or, one? What if the jury decided the one procecuted wasn’t proven “beyond reasonable doubt”? “

    Of course investigators should conduct a thorough investigation of every crime. That is not what is being said in this article. It also has no bering on prosecutors stacking charges. When prosecutors charge a defendant numerous times for the same crime, they are just trying to get the person to take a plea deal. Prosecutors can still present evidence for each robbery at trial.

    In the case cited in Bill Pursell’s article the young man’s friends took a plea deal and testified against him. They were the only one’s who said he had a gun and shot at a dog. There were no other witnesses to that part of the crime and he was convicted on the testimony of his accomplices.

    If the crime was so heinous and he is so unredeemable that he should be sentenced for 162 years why are his accomplices able to reenter society in 9-22 years?

  37. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]If the crime was so heinous and he is so unredeemable that he should be sentenced for 162 years why are his accomplices able to reenter society in 9-22 years? [/quote]

    So the real heart of the problem is plea bargaining, no? If you don’t take a plea deal, we’ll throw the book at you! However, what is the alternative? No plea deals, try every case?

  38. David M. Greenwald

    It goes beyond that Elaine. Talk to local defense attorneys – often the plea deals are unpalatable and the exposure to trial even worse.

  39. Nemesis

    “So the real heart of the problem is plea bargaining, no? If you don’t take a plea deal, we’ll throw the book at you! However, what is the alternative? No plea deals, try every case?”

    It shouldn’t be the case that someone admitting to a crime gets less time because they testified against their partner. Especially without corroborating witnesses. There is too much risk in someone lying to get a good deal and throwing the other person under the bus. In the case cited, the person doing all the time was the one with the mental illness. I’m sure he was the easy target for all concerned. This is nut justice.

  40. Fight Against Injustice

    Elaine and Just Saying: The real heart of the problem is when charges are stacked in a weak case to make the case appear stronger than it really is. The DA’s office should analyze the case and make a common sense decision on whether they should prosecute a weak case or simply drop it.

    But instead, they stack the charges so that the punishment is going to be outrageous, and hope this will lead to a plea bargain so they can get a CONVICTION, which is what they are really after.

    The conviction makes them look tough on crime and helps hit quotas for grant funding. If there is strong evidence that a crime was committed, there would be no reason to stack a bunch of superfluous charges.

  41. Nemesis

    But instead, they stack the charges so that the punishment is going to be outrageous, and hope this will lead to a plea bargain so they can get a CONVICTION, which is what they are really after.

    This also leads to false admissions of guilt.

  42. JustSaying

    [quote]“Except third strike convictions were not meant to be dealt out for one crime spree consisting of more than one crime, which does happen a lot. Third strike convictions were meant to deter serial criminals.”[/quote]True. That, of course, does not apply in Mr. Davis’ case. This does not appear to be a three strikes case. The argument in his case is whether he should have been charged with the seven armed robberies which he committed over three months and the impact of mandatory sentencing laws.

    I have a feeling that the “charge stacking” might have been against the other defendants.[quote]“Of course investigators should conduct a thorough investigation of every crime. That is not what is being said in this article. It also has no bering on prosecutors stacking charges.”[/quote]I don’t see anything in the Reuters story about charges against Mr. Davis other than the seven for which he was convicted. Why do you say charges were “stacked” against him?

    Again, I ask:[quote]“The question is what would you have done before Mr. Davis’s sentences were imposed to assure that his sentence was appropriate to his crimes. I agree that the mandatory sentencing law that resulted in a total incarceration that’s beyond reason.”[/quote]It’s difficult to know the particulars in this case from the Reuters story. But, it’s obvious this person got more that his buddies because of his use of a gun. Apparently, there were many witnesses (including the person with whom he had a gunfight who could not make a definite ID, but who corroborated Mr. Smiths’ colleagues who claimed that a gun was fired)[quote]“Do you always ask what the background of reporters? How is that important?”[/quote]Yes, this was the first thing I looked for at the top and bottom of the article (where the author typically is identified). I found it unusual that Bill Pursell wasn’t identified, and, subsequently, odd that he hasn’t engaged in the interesting conversation.

    It’s important to me to consider the author’s point of view. Does this person have first-hand experience with the criminal justice system? Is he with the DA’s office, David’s staff, an accused family, the public defender, a student?

    An author’s point of view, position, experience–all are important in considering someone who writes a featured article on an issue like this.

  43. Nemesis

    Just Saying

    An author’s point of view, position, experience–all are important in considering someone who writes a featured article on an issue like this.

    If you can’t tell the author’s point of view when reading the article then it must be taken from a factual, non-judgemental point of view. It is a very interesting article and brought up up a subject that needs discussion. It’s too bad you seem to care more about who wrote it than the content.

    It’s difficult to know the particulars in this case from the Reuters story. But, it’s obvious this person got more that his buddies because of his use of a gun. Apparently, there were many witnesses (including the person with whom he had a gunfight who could not make a definite ID, but who corroborated Mr. Smiths’ colleagues who claimed that a gun was fired)

    Apparently, you didn’t read the Reuter’s story so I will provide a quote from the story.
    “The accounts of Davis’s firing his gun were otherwise uncorroborated.”

  44. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]It goes beyond that Elaine. Talk to local defense attorneys – often the plea deals are unpalatable and the exposure to trial even worse.[/quote]

    So shall we not allow plea deals at all and try every case? Is that the answer?

    [quote]It shouldn’t be the case that someone admitting to a crime gets less time because they testified against their partner. Especially without corroborating witnesses. There is too much risk in someone lying to get a good deal and throwing the other person under the bus. In the case cited, the person doing all the time was the one with the mental illness. I’m sure he was the easy target for all concerned. This is nut justice.[/quote]

    And yet if the person testifying against the partner in crime has nothing to gain, why should they rat out their partner in crime/testify against him or her at all? There is no incentive to do so…

    And yes, there is most definitely a chance the one who rats out the other will lie to protect himself/herself. So should we do away with plea bargains as inherently unreliable and try every case?

    [quote]Elaine and Just Saying: The real heart of the problem is when charges are stacked in a weak case to make the case appear stronger than it really is. The DA’s office should analyze the case and make a common sense decision on whether they should prosecute a weak case or simply drop it. [/quote]

    So DA’s should only try cases where the evidence is “strong”? And what standard does one use for “strong” case versus “weak” case? Where does one draw the line between a “strong” case and a “weak” case? Suppose the DA is certain the defendant committed the crime and wants to protect society from a dangerous criminal, has 10 dead victims, but has a “weak” case bc the criminal was clever enough to cover up his crime? Should the DA drop the case or try a plea deal to at least put this criminal away for some amount of time?

  45. Nemesis

    And yet if the person testifying against the partner in crime has nothing to gain, why should they rat out their partner in crime/testify against him or her at all? There is no incentive to do so…

    If they “rat out” a partner that shouldn’t be the only testimony or the dominant testimony given during trial in order to get a conviction. The person “taking the wrap” shouldn’t be given a ridiculous sentence either. Maybe to be fair, an additional few years. An incentive for 140 years less time is a bit too much of an incentive-don’t you think?

  46. Fight Against Injustice

    ERM: I love how you jump to extreme cases….10 dead people????

    Let’s talk about the more typical cases that happen in the court room.
    How can the DA be sure certain that the person is guilty if the evidence is weak? Are they just guessing based on intuition?

    If a case is weak, then they have three choices.
    1. Investigate more and see if you can find something stronger.
    2. Go ahead with a gut feeling and prosecute and hope for the best.
    3. Drop the case.

    But to add superfluous charges to scare the accused into a false confession, plea bargain or make them appear to a jury to be guilty is not playing fair. It is stacking the deck in the prosecutions’ favor.

    No one wants a guilty criminal on the street, but let’s do it in an honest way with evidence. That is what are legal system is supposed to do.

  47. Nemesis

    “Stacking charges is very tantalizing for prosecutors. This is especially true when a public servant such as a District Attorney has to prove him/herself to the public. All prosecutors are looking to improve their “courtroom stats” to gain reputation, and stacking increases wins because it is more difficult to defend a large number of charges.”

    This is a topic that hasn’t been discussed in this blog yet. This is really the crux of both the whole stacking charges and plea bargaining in courts today. The DA’s office, as well as, courts in general need to be depoliticized. We need to change this part of the system so DA’s don’t try weak cases, provide plea deals just to jack up conviction rates, worry about campaigning and the money needed to do it.

  48. David M. Greenwald

    “So shall we not allow plea deals at all and try every case? Is that the answer?”

    My statement was that the plea offers locally are too harsh for defense attorneys to recommend to their clients to take, the exposure too high to go to trial, somehow from this statement you have concluded that I must believe we should not allow plea deals at all. I simply have no response to this as it makes no sense to me.

  49. JustSaying

    [quote]“Apparently, you didn’t read the Reuter’s story so I will provide a quote from the story.
    ‘The accounts of Davis’s firing his gun were otherwise uncorroborated’.”[/quote] I read it several times and, also, searched to find other accounts that might include more information (without success).

    I concluded from the Reuters story that there was plenty of corroborating evidence for the jury to convict–including several co-robber eyewitnesses (including one who got shot by the person who had the gunfight with Mr. Davis). How much more corroboration is needed?[quote]“Elaine and Just Saying: The real heart of the problem is when charges are stacked in a weak case to make the case appear stronger than it really is.”[/quote]I agree. And, I don’t see anything in the Reuters story that suggests that the case against Mr. Davis was a weak one. Of course, investigators, prosecutors and juries have to weigh the credibility of co-conspirators. But, who else could better meet the criteria of being “good eyewitnesses” to a crime than the participants themselves? [quote]“It’s too bad you seem to care more about who wrote it than the content.”[/quote]You asked my why I’m interested in knowing the affiliation/background of someone who authors such an opinion piece. I tried to be responsive about why it’s important to me (and, incidentally, why it’s a standard disclosure for media). Sorry that I somehow gave you the impression that I “care more about who wrote it than the content.” This, of course, is not true, and I’d hope that would come through in my comments.

  50. invictus

    This discussion has come way off track. It is not about justice for victims; everyone supports that. Rather it is questioning whether prosecutors should use compromised tactics, such as charge stacking, to gain convictions and extended sentences.

    ERM, you seem to be saying that practicality justifies much of what is wrong with our legal system. It does not.

  51. Nemesis

    I read it several times and, also, searched to find other accounts that might include more information (without success).

    I am quoting from the said article below. It really isn’t too hard to follow, however it was about halfway down the page. As you can see other than the other robber, who had everything to gain by lying about what happened no other witness was able to identify him.

    The accounts of Davis’s firing his gun were otherwise uncorroborated.
    The armed customer outside Wendy’s, Dade County Public Schools maintenance worker Antonio Lamont Brooks, was unable to offer positive identification of the man with whom he exchanged gunfire. But he was uninjured and managed to squeeze off enough rounds from his 9mm handgun to leave one of Davis’s accomplices with a bullet wound in his left buttock.

    Now that we have cleared this up let’s talk about why prosecutors stack charges to get plea deals.

  52. JustSaying

    [quote]“I am quoting from the said article below. It really isn’t too hard to follow, however it was about halfway down the page. As you can see other than the other robber, who had everything to gain by lying about what happened no other witness was able to identify him.”[/quote]No need to keep patronizing me; I told you that I read the Reuters article. I read enough to see that Mr. Davis’ [quote]“[u]accomplices[/u] testified against him, saying he carried a gun during their crimes and discharged it at a dog that chased them after one of their burglaries.”[/quote]Not “the other robber,” as you write, but the other [u]robbers[/u] testified against him. Furthermore, one of his accomplices was hit by a bullet during the exchange of gunfire, as you note.

    My point is that all of these things go together to support the charges of which he was convicted. The fact that “the accounts of Davis’s firing his gun were [u]otherwise[/u] uncorroborated” is meaningless with respect to the crimes of which he was found guilty by the jury.[quote]“Now that we have cleared this up let’s talk about why prosecutors stack charges to get plea deals.”[/quote]Maybe they do. But, not in this case. Mr. Davis claims he was not offered a plea deal. And, I have yet to see a listing of the charges that he faced at trial–one armed robbery for each robbery is not “charge stacking” in any case. And, I see nothing that suggests this was a three-strikes case.

    The problem I see is the law requiring long-term, non-concurrent, mandatory sentences for a person who uses a gun in committing not one, but many felonies. This locks in all participants. Pointing the finger at the prosecutor simply is misguided.

  53. JustSaying

    [quote]“If you can’t tell the author’s point of view when reading the article then it must be taken from a factual, non-judgemental point of view. It is a very interesting article and brought up up a subject that needs discussion….This is a topic that hasn’t been discussed in this blog yet.”[/quote]Actually, Nemesis, this is a subject that’s been thoroughly discussed in the [i]Vanguard[/i]. Not, Mr. Davis’ case, but the concept of “charge stacking” has been an ongoing [i]Vanguard[/i] theme with respect to the local district attorney for years.

    It’s just that the Reuters story doesn’t support the “charge stacking” charge with the possible exception of how it might have been used with Mr. Davis’ accomplices. But, we don’t know that, do we?

    Given your concerns about the unreliability of the witnesses, lack of corroboration, etc., I wonder if what you’re really getting at is that he’s not guilty? Mr. Smith does claim he’s innocent, as opposed to his accomplices who all have confessed.

  54. Fight Against Injustice

    Just Saying: You are spending an inordinate amount of time trying to get people off the subject here. Why do you not want to talk about the concept of charge stacking?

    Can we stop about the Reuter’s story since you feel this is a bad example and talk about charge stacking in general?

    Are you so supportive of charge stacking that you cannot see the harm it can do if a less than reputable prosecutor decides to take advantage of it by adding superfluous charges to scare the accused into a false confession, plea bargain or make them appear more guilty to a jury? I am not talking about cases where there is evidence to support the charges.

    I am talking about weak cases that the DA bolsters by stacking up charges. This action “stacks the deck” in the prosecutions’ favor. The legal system should use evidence in a case–not play a game with stacking charges.

  55. JustSaying

    I do not support “charge stacking.” This article supposedly is about “charge stacking” in the case of Mr. Davis, although it doesn’t seem applicable. I’m glad to talk about that subject–and have been–although Mr. Davis seems more a victim of the federal mandatory sentencing laws (my point), which I also oppose.

    I’m also opposed to any prosecutor “adding superfluous charges to scare the accused into a false confession” and against any “less than reputable prosecutor” attempting to obtain a false confession when the case is weak or in any situation, for that matter. Again, the case against Mr. Davis seems pretty strong and, so far, I’ve not seen any list of “stacked charges” against him.

    Of all the examples used in this article, only the goat man’s case seems to qualify as “charge stacking” and, as Elaine pointed out, the case was not pursued.

  56. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]ERM, you seem to be saying that practicality justifies much of what is wrong with our legal system. It does not.[/quote]

    I asked the questions I did because there are very definite policy reasons behind “charge-stacking”; plea deals, etc. The idea is to encourage defendants to agree to a plea deal, so that court dockets are not overcrowded and trials can be expedited quickly. Now you may not like that as a reason, but it is the reality. If you have the idealistic view the charge-stacking,plea deals, trying “weak” cases should be done away with, then what do you suggest? Try every case? Not possible. Try only “strong” cases? What constitutes a “strong” case?

    I’ve never been particularly comfortable with the plea bargaining process, and have said so many times. But you have to really think long and hard about the reforms you are suggesting, and what the possible ramifications might be…

  57. David M. Greenwald

    “The idea is to encourage defendants to agree to a plea deal, so that court dockets are not overcrowded and trials can be expedited quickly. “

    I don’t know that that’s the purpose or idea. You seem to have assumed that this is the case, but I have told you what people who actually work in our court system actually believe. The easiest way to get people to agree to a plea deal is to offer them a reasonable offer. What happens in Yolo are stacked charges and ridiculous offers. So how does that accomplish your stated view?

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