Prosecutors overcharge defendants to scare them into guilty pleas

Prosecutors overcharge defendants to scare them into guilty pleas

| Apr 26, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

There are many rules meant to protect people in the United States from unscrupulous actions by prosecutors and law enforcement officers. Some of these rules are in the Bill of Rights, while others are the result of court rulings and precedent.

For example, there is a rule against double jeopardy or prosecuting an individual multiple times for a single offense. Unfortunately, prosecutors have found a way to bend that rule without overtly breaking it.

Long gone are the days when prosecutors brought a single charge against a person and then built a case in court. Most prosecutors aim to avoid court or trials as often as possible. They secure high conviction rates by overcharging defendants and making them feel like they have no alternative but to plead guilty. How does overcharging affect defendants facing criminal accusations?

Overcharging typically comes in one of two forms

Both prosecutors and police officers can get pretty creative in their approach to criminal justice. Overcharging is commonly an approach employed by prosecutors.

One way to overcharge an individual accused of a crime is to broadly interpret the law and try to bring severe charges when the offense doesn’t seem that serious. For example, prosecutors might push for a felony drug charge when the case more clearly aligns with a misdemeanor possession offense.

Other times, they take a single offense and break it into multiple elements so that they can charge someone with multiple crimes for a single arrest. Both of these approaches will typically result in a defendant facing extreme penalties if convicted, making them feel like they have to plead guilty. The consequences in court may seem too severe if they lose. 

Innocent people pleading guilty is not a victory for the justice system

Guilty pleas have become a mainstay of the modern criminal justice system in the United States. By bringing exaggerated charges or multiple charges against someone, the prosecutor effectively threatens that person into compliance and a guilty plea.

Those facing serious charges or multiple charges for one offense still have the right to defend themselves. Going to court isn’t necessarily the easiest approach, but it can be a way to prevent one mistake from haunting you in the form of a lifetime criminal record.