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What is charge stacking in a criminal case?

On Behalf of | Feb 28, 2024 | Criminal Defense

You made one foolish mistake and ended up arrested – but now you’re facing a whole slew of charges instead of one.

What just happened? You may be a victim of “charge stacking.” Here’s what this means:

It’s often used to apply pressure to a defendant and encourage a plea

Charge stacking involves prosecutors filing multiple charges against a defendant for a single incident or criminal act. While each charge is distinct, the cumulative effect of facing multiple charges can significantly impact both your legal position and your emotional state.

What does charge stacking look like? Here are some examples:

  • Drug offenses: You can find yourself simultaneously charged with possession, possession with intent to distribute and trafficking for the same quantity of drugs.
  • Fraud: White collar defendants are particularly susceptible to charge stacking. A single incident of financial misconduct can be slapped with charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. 
  • Violent crimes: Even when there’s only one alleged victim and one incident, you could find yourself charged with both assault in the first degree and assault in the second degree for something like a shove followed by a punch.

Charge stacking is often something that occurs the closer a defendant gets to trial. When a prosecutor cannot get a plea agreement, they may review the case and find ways to add additional charges. That serves both to “up the ante” if you still want to take your case to trial and gives them more opportunity to secure a conviction on at least one charge.

Charge stacking is heavily criticized because it basically intimidates people into taking a plea by making the price of a loss at trial too much to bear. If you’re fighting for your future, the best thing you can do is seek qualified legal assistance right away.