What is Charge Stacking?

Being charged with a crime can be devastating. Facing multiple criminal charges at once can be even worse. Charge stacking, also called criminal stacking, refers to prosecutors charging defendants with as many relevant charges as possible. Prosecutors may try to find additional charges to tack onto their case.

Prosecutors charge stack to increase the likelihood of securing a conviction of at least one of the criminal charges. In other cases, they may stack criminal charges to intimidate defendants into accepting plea deals. Most commonly, criminal stacking occurs in white-collar crimes and cases involving violent crimes. It is much less likely that prosecutors will stack crimes in cases involving misdemeanors or other low-level offenses.

Types of Criminal Charges Commonly Stacked Together

There is an extensive range of criminal charges that could potentially be stacked together. However, the following types of criminal charges are more commonly stacked together:

  • Drug distribution, together with possession of drug paraphernalia and the intent to distribute in a school zone
  • A weapons possession charge combined with an assault charge
  • An embezzlement charge combined with extortion and another type of fraud charge
The Consequences of Charge Stacking

The majority of criminal cases never go to trial. Many cases are resolved through plea bargains. In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to admit guilt in exchange for a lighter sentence. Accepting a plea bargain means that defendants do not have to risk being convicted of a more serious charge of trial. However, prosecutors do not always engage fairly with defendants during the plea bargaining process. When prosecutors engage in charge stacking, they have more leverage to pressure defendants into accepting the plea bargain.

Police officers and district prosecutors have substantial discretion over the crimes they charge defendants. Many times they charge defendants with more charges than reasonable under the circumstances. When prosecutors engage in charge stacking, and the defendant is found guilty of more than one of the crimes, the court can and often does increase jail time for each offense. In some cases, this can result in an unreasonable and excessive jail sentence, given the facts of the case.

Charge stacking can make navigating criminal cases and building a legal defense challenging. When charges are stacked against the defendant, they have to defend themselves against the original criminal charge and multiple other related charges that may not align with the facts of the original alleged crime. Defending oneself can be more challenging, and the states can become more serious. For example, suppose the defendant is convicted on multiple charges. In that case, the sentence will be more severe, and they will face larger fines and fees, more time in jail or prison, or a combination of both.

Double Jeopardy

Defendants are protected from being charged for the same crime twice. Whether or not a person can be found guilty of more than one crime for the same criminal transaction is based on the specific elements of each criminal charge. When one count of a criminal charge requires prosecutors to prove the same elements as another criminal charge, prosecutors are only allowed to bring one of the charges against the defendant. If the defendant was convicted of both of the charges and they were substantially similar, their constitutional rights would have been violated.

What to Do if You Have Been Charged With Multiple Crimes in North Carolina

If you are facing multiple charges in North Carolina, it is in your best interest to contact a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. You will benefit from working with an attorney familiar with prosecutors’ tactics related to criminal stacking. At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our attorneys have a track record of successfully working on cases involving overzealous prosecutors who stack unrelated charges together.

We can negotiate with the prosecution and successfully have some of the charges against you dropped immediately. We will also begin building a solid defense to defend you against the underlying charge. No more time your attorney has to work on your defense, the more likely you are to have a successful outcome.

Discuss Your Case With a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with more than one crime or multiple crimes, do not hesitate to contact a criminal defense attorney in North Carolina. The criminal defense attorneys Arnold & Smith, PLLC, understand what you are up against and the consequences you face. We are here to advocate for you and aggressively pursue the best outcome possible in your case. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more about how we can fight for your rights.