Prosecutorial Overcharging Can Ruin Your Life

prosecutorial overchargingNone of us is perfect. Some of us even end up with some criminal charges at some point in our career. There are almost 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States, an astounding number.

Nobody is arguing the need for a strong criminal justice system that works fairly for everyone. The problem is that the fairness of the accused usually takes a backseat to everyone else. Nowhere is this more evident than when police and prosecutors dole out charges to a supposed criminal.

If you have heard of the term upselling, a retail practice of trying to get a customer to buy more expensive stuff, then you may understand the term upcharging. The goal of law enforcement and the district attorney’s office is to ensure a conviction on someone they arrest. In theory, they should do this by charging someone with crimes they can prove actually happened.

In practice, they often thrown every charge remotely related to a crime committed at the person.

Why would they do this?

They know full well that many of the charges they bring will not hold up in court, but it gives them bargaining room when it comes to negotiating a plea deal. The charges and their often massive prison time can, they hope, scare a person into accepting a guilty plea for a lesser charge, even if that lesser charge is for a crime that person did not commit.

Some Examples

To illustrate how this can look, we want to take three charges and see how they could be upcharged.

  1. You were arguing with a partner on the front lawn and the neighbors call police. When the police show up, your partner tells them that your struck them even though you did not. They show the police what could be bruises, but it is hard to tell. You loudly explain that you did not do anything and should not be arrested. You are arrested and charged with the following:
    • Disorderly conduct
    • Felony assault
    • Resisting arrest
  2. You meet someone on a dating app and begin conversations with the person. After a while, you exchange explicit photographs. You did not know this person was under the age of 18 until police knocked on your door. You are arrested and charged with the following:
    • Contributing to the delinquency of a minor
    • Sexual abuse of a child under 18
    • Indecent exposure directed at a minor
    • Sexual exploitation of a minor
    • Sexual conduct with a minor
  3. You have been addicted to heroin ever since your prescription to oxytocin ran out when you had surgery a year ago. You passed out near a store after taking a hit and were taken to the hospital. Instead of treatment, you have been placed under arrest and charged with the following:
    • Disorderly conduct
    • Personal possession of a narcotic
    • Possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance

Penalties And Lifelong Consequences

In the cases above, and in many others, the crime committed is often not committed on purpose or is relatively minor to what has actually been charged. As we said above, this is a tactic used by police and prosecutors to ensure a guilty plea. They essentially throw every charge in the book and see what sticks. This is not a fair way for the criminal justice system to work. Often, people feel they are forced into plea deals because they are terrified of going to trial with all of those bogus charges.

“What will the jury think when they see all of that?” you may think. The deck has been stacked against you before you even get into the room.

You can do something about this, but not without a strong and qualified defense attorney who will have your back and guide you to the best path forward.

Click here for information on what is a plea bargain in Arizona.