Doctrine of Merger in Criminal Sentencing

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What is the Doctrine of Merger?

The doctrine of merger applies in a criminal setting where the defendant committed two or more crimes in a single act, but is only charged with one crime.  The multiple crimes are considered by a judge to be “merged” or combined into a single charge.  Thus, according to the merger doctrine, a defendant may sometimes serve a criminal sentence for only one crime instead of two.

A defendant may not be tried, convicted, and sentenced for the same crime twice.  Being convicted of the same crime twice is known as “double jeopardy” and is prohibited according to the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Therefore, the merger doctrine was instituted as a way to help avoid the problem of double jeopardy.

What types of Crimes may be Merged?

The rules governing merger vary according to the criminal laws of each state, and also according to federal violations.  However, in general the following principles apply with regards to merged crimes:

So, whether a crime merges with another crime depends largely on the type of crime that is involved.  The merger doctrine is most commonly applied to situations where a lesser included offense is merged with a more serious offense. 

How does the Merger Doctrine affect Sentencing?

The doctrine of merger allows the defendant to receive a fewer number of charges on their criminal record.  So instead of being charged with more than one crime, the defendant will only be convicted of one crime.

The merger doctrine may also result in a less severe sentence for the defendant than if they were to be charged with each separate crime.  In instances where a lesser crime merges with a more serious crime, the defendant will often have to serve the criminal punishments for the more serious crime.  The penalties for the lesser crime will not be enforced.

However, in some situations the defendant may still have to serve an extended jail sentence if multiple charges were initially involved.  This is true for criminal trials that involve a long string of crimes in a single incident, where some of the crimes did not merge. 

Do I need a Lawyer for the Merger Doctrine during Criminal Sentencing?

If you are facing criminal charges for more than one crime, you may wish to consult with a criminal lawyer for advice.  An experienced attorney can help determine whether any of your charges will merge with another, which will likely result in a reduced sentence.  Also, if you feel that a lower court has made a mistake by trying you for two crimes that should have been merged, you may be entitled to an appeal. 

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Last Modified: 05-06-2011 01:04 PM PDT

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