Stacking charges, or what can be perceived as “combining charges,” occurs when a prosecutor treats separate offenses as prior convictions to treat a defendant as a repeat offender even if he or she does not have any prior convictions. Repeat felony offenders face enhanced sentencing in Arizona as compared to first-time offenders for the same offenses.
If a prosecutor can prove that the offenses were committed at separate times, the defendant may be sentenced more harshly than others.
For example, if someone is charged with three burglaries on subsequent days and is prosecuted for them in a single trial, he or she may be treated as a repeat offender if the prosecutor is stacking charges and is able to prove all three criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
Why Stacking Charges is a Real Problem
Prosecutors often use charge stacking as a way to convince defendants to accept plea offers that might otherwise be unfavorable. For example, a prosecutor might tell a defendant that he or she will ask for an enhanced sentence if the defendant takes the case against him or her to trial. This might happen even when it is unclear that the offenses would normally be considered separate.
Because the defendant might be frightened at the prospect of facing a potentially lengthy prison sentence, he or she may feel like there is no other choice than to accept the plea offer.