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Prosecutorial overcharging: What is it and why is it a problem?

On Behalf of | Apr 7, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Facing criminal charges is a frightening experience in any scenario, but prosecutors can make it much more frightening by overcharging you. A prosecutor is an attorney working on behalf of the state or federal government to enforce the law by bringing criminal charges against a defendant. Their job is to help protect the public by enforcing the law and getting the most dangerous and violent criminals off the street.

Unfortunately, many prosecutors are driven by political motivations. They want career success and high approval rates, goals which typically require a high percentage of successful prosecutions. Many prosecutors overcharge defendants specifically because it forces them to accept plea bargains and therefore preserves a high conviction rate.

What is prosecutorial overcharging, and why is it such a serious concern?

Bringing extreme charges for minor offenses

Sometimes, there may be more than one statute that applies to a situation. A prosecutor should look at the circumstances to determine what is most appropriate. Unfortunately, the process often looks like the prosecutor is simply finding the most severe charges that they can justify given the circumstances.

Someone arrested with a small amount of drugs on their person could face trafficking charges simply because they also had a scale in their pocket. There is no real evidence to indicate that they use the scale for anything other than purchasing drugs, but the prosecutor wants the biggest charges and worst penalties so that the defendant will feel like going to trial instead or taking a plea bargain is too much of a risk.

Bringing multiple charges over one incident

Someone makes a potentially criminal mistake, like mailing drugs to a friend the next state over. Instead of just charging them with a trafficking offense or a possession offense, the prosecutor might bring a possession or trafficking charge in addition to a felony mail fraud charge.

By bringing two or three charges related to the same activity, the prosecutor can drastically increase the penalties. The impact of this form of overcharging is the same as the impact of bringing felony charges over a minor offense. The defendant feels as though they have no choice but to plead guilty.

Prosecutorial overcharging denies people their right to due process by putting them under an unfair amount of pressure given the severity of the offense that allegedly occurred. Understanding how prosecutors handle their cases can help you find the courage to mount a criminal defense.

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