Prosecutors Overcharging in Order to Garner a Guilty Plea? A Familiar Complaint

One of the oldest tricks in a prosecutor’s book is the overcharging of defendants in order to ensure the best possible outcome for the state, i.e. a conviction and jail sentence.  The result is that defendants arrested for minor crimes end up with additional charges, ranging from non-criminal violations to misdemeanors to felonies – many of these charges with no real chance of sticking in the end.  By charging as many crimes as possible for a single incident, a prosecutor is exposing the defendant to significantly more jail time, giving the prosecutor more leverage to force defendants to plead guilty to something, ensuring a “win” for the State.  Any of the best criminal defense attorneys in New York know through years of experience not to panic – but instead to stay the course and force the prosecutor to come down to an appropriate deal.  

A Single Shoplifting Incident Can Turn Ugly

As an example, let’s look at what may seem like a very minor crime, shoplifting.  In New York, simple theft, such as shoplifting, is charged as Petit Larceny, N.Y.P.L. § 155.25, very broadly defined as when an individual steals property, with no requirement as to the type or value of the property stolen.  Petit Larceny is classified as an A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail.  If a person were to take an item without paying for it – such as a pack of gum – that would constitute Petit Larceny.  However typically in these cases, a prosecutor would not only charge the individual with Petit Larceny but would also tack on the added charge of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree, N.Y.P.L. § 165.40, also an A misdemeanor.  All together this exposes a defendant to potentially up to two years of jail.  Sometimes a prosecutor may even go further and also charge the lesser-included counts of attempted Petit Larceny and attempted Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree.  Both of these charges are B misdemeanors, and if added to a criminal complaint could expose an individual to an additional year in jail for each charge – thus a defendant could potentially be exposed to three years of jail for something as small as shoplifting a pack of gum.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree, N.Y.P.L. § 165.40, occurs when a person “knowingly possesses stolen property” with the intent to benefit himself, or another person (other then the owner) or to block recovery of stolen property by an owner.  This crime is appropriately charged when a person knowingly possesses an object that has already been stolen or prevents an owner from recovering their lawful property.  This charge usually comes into play when a stolen item has resale value.  Being held criminally accountable for the possession of stolen items helps to deter individuals from purchasing stolen property or aiding in other larceny crimes by taking possession of the stolen objects — not the case for shoplifting.  When a person takes possession of an item in the store, the item is not yet “stolen property.”  The theft occurs after the possession has already taken place.  So even though Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree should not apply to a shoplifting situation, that doesn’t stop prosecutors from tacking on this charge, thus doubling or even tripling an individual’s potential jail exposure upon conviction.

Don’t Give In — Hire a Top Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Staten Island, Rockland, Westchester, Nassau or Suffolk County Defense Lawyer Today

In the end, the piling up of the charges is an effort by the prosecutor to force the defendant to take a guilty plea to something, anything – and often the overcharging achieves that goal due to the defendant’s increasing terror of the artificially high jail sentence.  If you or someone you know has been arrested for Petit Larceny or any other crime, no matter how minor it seems, it is very important that you hire an attorney who is capable of holding the prosecutor accountable to prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt.  The attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman are familiar with prosecutors’ overcharging in an effort to secure a guilty plea and will work tirelessly to achieve the best possible outcome, no matter how serious or minor the crimes charged are.