February 18, 2022 by Anthony Riccio
In the long-fought War on Drugs, sentences have been disproportionate to the crime. Despite attempts to reduce excessive sentencing in parts of the country, the popularity of charge stacking has continued to wreak havoc on lives for minor offenses.
While drug charge stacking occurs when the prosecutors charge for multiple offenses for the same act, consecutive sentencing means a person can serve an exorbitant sentence for a minor offense. The Unsystematic Issuing of Consecutive Sentences in America examines the role of drug charge stacking and consecutive sentencing.
For example, an individual who is arrested for selling narcotics one time will usually receive three consecutive sentences by stacking three drug charges:
Each offense carries 3 to 5 years per charge, leading to a potential 15-year sentence for committing one crime.
As states slowly begin to decriminalize marijuana, the recent arrest of Thomas Hall and subsequent charge stacking seems like the start of a joke rather than a serious news story.
Brookside police in Alabama have ramped up their War on Marijuana during invasive traffic stops along Interstate 22. According to reports, Thomas Hall was stopped for speeding when police searched his car. Under Alabama law, finding a small amount of marijuana would generally see a Class A misdemeanor which carries a sentence of up to one year in prison.
However, law enforcement decided to outdo themselves and charged Hall with the following:
Drug charge stacking and other charge piling have been used to help Brookside increase profits by 640% in two years.
Prosecutors also avoid the costs of trials by using stacked charges to coerce defendants into plea deals. Prosecutors are liberally piling charges from the same offense to create decades-long prison sentences if convicted. Prosecutors then offer the defendant a “plea deal” that significantly reduces their sentence.
By using the risk of conviction as a major scare tactic, prosecutors can avoid the time, work, and the cost that it takes going to trial.
Every American has the right to a public trial; however, exercising the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution has become a source of punishment. Rather than allow an accused individual the ability to be “innocent until proven guilty,” drug charge stacking has frightened most defendants into plea deals.
According to Human Rights Watch, An Offer You Can’t Refuse, 9 out of 10 federal and state criminal cases end with plea deals. When going to trial often means a sentence three times longer than the plea bargain, what rational person would risk so much?
The report reveals that on average:
Apart from numbers, numerous lives have been disrupted by this practice. Darlene Eckles allowed her brother to operate a drug dealing business out of her home, occasionally helping count cash. She was offered a ten-year sentence on a plea bargain but asked for a trial. Eckles is currently serving a twenty-year sentence.
Patricio Paladin was arrested for cocaine distribution and offered a twenty-year sentence. He took his case to trial and is now serving a life sentence without parole.
After being arrested for marijuana distribution and gun possession, Weldon Angelos was offered a fifteen-year sentence. After requesting a trial, Angelos is now serving a fifty-five-year sentence.
The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution has taken a significant hit with drug charge stacking. Eckles, Paladin, and Angelos all fell victim to what human rights activists are calling the “trial penalty.”
According to the data:
When individuals exercised their right to a trial, prosecutors stacked as many charges as possible for one offense and employed every sentencing enhancement available for those eligible.
Drug charge stacking is further enhanced by the mandatory minimum sentencing, leading many to life sentences without the possibility of parole.
According to the study, A Living Death: Life without Parole for Non-violent Offenses:
Non-violent drug offenses make up over half of all LWOP sentences, grossly disproportionate to the crime. Over the last 40 years:
In the last reporting year in Massachusetts, drug offenses were responsible for the second-highest reason for the newly incarcerated at 24%.
While charge stacking occurs for several types of crimes, drug offenses carry the lengthiest prison terms. Out of the 50-year War on Drugs, mandatory minimum sentences, three-strike rule, and consecutive sentencing have made stacking multiple drug charges for one act easy and common.
Coercive plea-bargaining using drug charge stacking is at the root of mass incarceration. In his piece to NBC’s THINK, Clark Neily noted that prosecutors’ eagerness to strongarm defendants is backed by the Supreme Court’s support. This is illustrated by examining the 1978 Supreme Court case, Bordenkircher v. Hayes.
In this case, the Court upheld a life sentence for forging one $88 check. Bordenkircher was offered a five-year plea-bargain. He was then threatened with being charged as a “habitual offender,” increasing his sentence to a mandatory life sentence if he refused to accept the offer. Bordenkircher is one of the first famous examples of the trial penalty.
Neily further remarks that drug charge stacking has effectively removed the justice system’s essential functions. The US Constitution supported citizen participation by way of jury trials. With less than two percent of federal cases going to trial, the system is broken.
If you are facing the unsavory tactic of drug charge stacking, seek the experienced counsel of Riccio Law to discuss your options.