What is the point of stacking charges?

What is the point of tacking more or less petty charges to the indictments of those charged with far more serious crimes?

In local (Albuquerque) news, a nut job went on a killing rampage. Five people are dead. Two of them police officers. At least four of the murders were certainly premeditated.

In addition to five counts of first degree murder, this fellow is charged with evidence tampering. Apparently after two of the murders, having emptied a revolver into two young motorcycle shop employees, he threw the spent cases into a nearby dumpster.

Note to non gun savey dopers: Revolvers do not eject the spent cases as they are fired. They must be manually ejected in order to reload. It is not like the guy scoured the crime scene to pick them up. It is pretty likely that he ejected them directly into the dumpster.

Understand, I am in no way defending this psycho. Just that is seems really petty, in some ways trivializing the far more serious crimes. Does it matter that the guy is facing 5 consecutive life sentences AND 90 more days for the evidence tampering?

I guess if he had just ejected the cases onto the ground, they’d be charging him with littering.

It’s not as if he might get off of the murder raps, and yet still face the evidence tampering charge…if he is not guilty of the murders, then the cases were evidence of what crime?

IANAL, but here is my guess.

In certain states a life sentence doesn’t not equal life behind bars. Therefore when someone does something like this you charge them with everything you can so that hopefully the person never gets out of prison. It’s the same idea as giving someone a 200 year prison term. It’s not that anyone expects the person to live that long, it is so that the person never becomes eligable for parole. Same idea*.


*Though I could be wrong.

Or you make the prison terms consecutive instead of concurrent, so that when a convict finishes one sentence, instead of being freed the next one starts.

My understanding is that thye are seperate crimes and there is always a possibility a jury can find the defendant innocent of some of the other charges.

What I never understood was how they could charge seperate crimes for the exact same action. Like charging a suspected murderer of murder in the first and murder in the second for killing one person. Isn’t that double jeapardy?

The charges are for the same offense, but the jury has a chance to decide which degree of murder applies, i.e. first degree murder may apply to the intentional killing of a police officer, but a defense attorney could argue that the defendant didn’t know the victim was a police officer, and thus didn’t form the necessary intent to commit first degree murder as defined by law. The jury, in this example, has to evaluate the defendant’s intent if they’re trying to choose which charge to convict him of. They would not convict him of both, with consecutive sentences.

So that only happens when a defendant admits guilt? I know they would not convict him of both, but the state charged him with both. I have heard where juries wanted to know if they could consider a lesser crime but was told no. (Michael Jackson case) And ISTM that if I was a juror and the prosecutors wanted me to believe they knew what happened, that I shouldn’t be able to pick the parts I liked. They either make their case or they don’t. Half-assed goes into the area of reasonable doubt.

My point is that this guy is facing 5 consecutive life sentences including the killing of two cops. Massive evidence, witnesses, and a confession. He will almost certainly be found “guilty but mentally ill”, which means (thanks Dopers) he will be in a mental hospital forever, but if he ever gets out of there, he will be in prison 'till he dies.

If the DA made the evidence tampering stick, but he got off on the murders, she’d look even worse than if he got of completely. It just seems like reflexive and pointless “Throw the book at him” mentality.

Also, seeing how a long drawn out trial can alienate a jury (thinking OJ, Jacko) it seems to me that having to support additional charges would tend to hurt what should be the main focus.

Oh, yeah, I should also add that there is no freaking way the DA is going to plea bargain this case…it would be foolish and polically suicidal…so the stacked charges aren’t there for bargaining chips…or to scare the accused into copping a plea.

Some possibilities from my experience:

  1. The consecutive sentence thing - even if there is no possibility of parole now, who knows what will happen in 10-15 years.

  2. Appeal - appelate courts have the nasty habit of throwing some charges out on appeal and keeping others. This is more likely to ensure he remains locked up.

  3. It could be a plea barganing tool - probably not in this case, but still, a good DA and a desperate defendant may drop a minor count to save face.

  4. Obstruction of Justice type charges strengthens bail arguments for a DA.

  5. Many, if not most DA offices have specific policies about always charging certain type of offenses if the evidence warrants - witness tampering, perjury, etc. (obstruction of justice type charges) are usually on the top of the list.

Remember O.J.?

I used to do work for an anmimal shelter. It was common for the city to pay the shelter to house a dog taken, say, as part of a drug bust. Often they were Pit Bull type dogs that were being fought. The dogs were kept as evidence for an animal abuse charge just in case the original drug charge didn’t keep the person behind bars.

It’s also something of a matter of principle. Just because they’re getting 4 life sentences doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be charged for the 5th guy they murdered.

Besides, you have to serve a certain number of years of a life sentence before you can get parole. Stacking sentences is a pretty good way to ensure a criminal never gets parole.

There can be any number of reasons. Often, charges are brought to solve an evidentiary problem.

If the investigation developed somehow from the discarded casings, and if the accused was questioned about them and made some inculpatory statements, one way of ensuring those statements are admitted into evidence is by charging him with the act for which they are directly inculpatory. Without that, it’s possible that the defense could exclude any admissions he made. This is all speculation, of course – I have no way of knowing enough specifics here.

Of course, sometimes charges are brought because prosecutors are vengefully mean SOBs.

In addition to what’s already been mentioned, maybe the police department is trying to pad its closure rate. From their perspective, having “solved” 6 crimes (5 murders + evidence tampering) is better than 5 (just the murders).