Published on 5/3/2022, 2:53:00 PM
Multiple counts of the same charges in Maryland criminal cases.
If you or a loved one have received multiple counts of the same charges in Maryland, you might be wondering why. Criminal law can be confusing, especially when a person is charged with numerous counts of the same crime, or similar crimes.
This article will address why people are charged with multiple counts of the same charge, and how to best approach these criminal charges.
When Police officers submit their initially charges, they tend to throw as many charges as they possibly can, and then see what sticks. This plays out differently in each case; however, there are some general rules of thumb that might explain how a person could be confused about multiple charges.
Multiple gun charges for one gun
Police Officers, and prosecutors will often charge many different gun charges when a single firearm is recovered. This is because they do not want to limit their ability to pursue different theories of prosecution. It is common to see all forms of wear, carry, transporting a firearm charged, even for a single gun:
HANDGUN IN VEHICLE [HANDGUN IN VEH: PUBLIC ROAD, ETC]
HANDGUN ON PERSON
LOADED HANDGUN IN VEHICLE
LOADED HANDGUN ON PERSON
Additionally, a person may receive charges under the Public Safety Article:
FIREARM POSS W/FEL CONVICT
REG FIREARM:ILLEGAL POSSESSION
FIREARM POSS UNDER 21
FIREARM POSS W/FEL CONVICT
ILLEGAL POSS AMMO
Although it may seem crazy, a person could be charged with all of these offenses based on a single handgun. Typically a person cannot be convicted of multiple offenses for the same conduct; however, there are certain laws that are written to allow this to happen. In the realm of handguns.
Multiple Assault Charges for one assault
Many people charged with a domestic assault will receive multiple assault charges. For example, they may be charged with Assault in the First Degree, and Assault in the second degree. Even though these charges might be for the same assault, they carry different burdens of proof.
A person can receive multiple assault charges if there are allegations that more than one victim was assaulted. As a rule of thumb, think assault on one person, for one date, gives one charge. If there's multiple victims, or multiple incident dates, expect multiple charges.
Ultimately, a person can only be sentenced for one of the two charges; however, we will discuss this later below.
Multiple charges in a drug case
Drug cases in Maryland are famous for having a TON of charges brought at the initial charging phase by Police. It is common to see any or all of the below charges for a single bag of alleged drugs:
CDS Poss w int to Dist
CDS: possess-not marijuana
This is commonly done as Officers don't always know the type of drug they are seizing, whether a person actually intended to distribute, and how the local prosecutors office handles drug possession.
The possession with intent and distribution felonies are often dropped, depending on the quantity of drugs seized, what they test for, and any local policies as it pertains to prosecution.
In drug cases, a rule of thumb is: one type of drug, one date, one type of each of the above charges. If a person is stopped with a large quantity of marijuana, and a large quantity of cocaine, it is feasible to have two sets of each of the above charges.
Can a person receive multiple convictions for one action?
The simple answer to this question is "yes"; however, just because it is possible does not mean every Defendant will. Double jeopardy should prevent multiple punishments for a single action.
Maryland criminal law applies two tests for "merger" or combining convictions for multiple offenses into a single sentence. These two tests are not applied uniformly; however, a skilled criminal defense lawyer should argue each at a potential sentencing.
The Required Evidence Test
The "required evidence test," which applies to both criminal offenses in Maryland, looks specifically at the elements of each offense a person is convicted of.
If all of the elements of one offense are included in the other offense, so that only the latter offense contains a distinct element or distinct elements, the former merges into the latter for double jeopardy purposes.
Common examples of "lesser included offenses"
Some common examples of lesser included offenses are:
Assault + theft = Robbery. A person should not be sentenced on and assault and a theft if they are also convicted of robbery, as these two charges are lesser included offenses of robbery.
Assault in the Second Degree and Assault in the First Degree. If a person receives an assault in the first degree conviction, it would follow that their assault in the second degree conviction (for an assault on the same person) should merge.
DUI and DWI. A person who is convicted of DUI and DWI in the same case, should not receive a sentence for DWI, because it is a lesser included offense of DUI.
The Rule of Lenity
The rule of lenity is one of fairness, it boils down to giving a Defendant the benefit of the doubt that two offenses should merge together, as as matter of statutory interpretation.
The rule of lenity is used as a last resort when a Court cannot understand the legislative intent underlying the statutes under which the a person was convicted. Think of it as a hail mary, that your lawyer might throw when he or she is out of options to argue against merger based on the elements of an offense, and instead argues that when the law was created, it was not intended to be applied to punish a person multiple times.
Rule of fairness
The rule of fairness, or doctrine of fundamental fairness, is a Maryland criminal law theory that can be argued by a defense attorney. It can be simply put as an argument that it would be unfair to punish a Defendant multiple times for the same conduct in a sentencing. It is heavily fact dependant, and cannot be boiled down to a simple explanation. It is rarely applied, as the above tests are decided as a matter of law, and fundamental fairness is more nuanced.
Speak with a criminal lawyer today
If you, or a loved one, have received criminal charges and would like to speak with an attorney, contact FrizWoods. We provide 24/7 free consultations protected by attorney client privilege.