Multiple crimes are said to be “merged” when they are treated as a single crime for the purposes of a criminal case. Crimes may be merged when they are deemed to result from a single criminal act. For instance, an individual may be accused of driving while intoxicated (DWI) as well as reckless driving as the result of a single traffic stop. These accusations can be merged into a single impaired-driving accusation during the arraignment process. In most cases, the most serious charge remains after a merger.
When Can Crimes be Merged?
There are several different situations in which crimes can be merged. These include:
The charged crime is commonly construed as an included offense in a more serious crime. There are many examples of included offenses in the American legal canon. For instance, a successful robbery necessarily involves the commission of larceny. A defendant who is charged with robbery is assumed to have committed larceny as well. Since larceny is a lesser crime with lighter sentencing requirements, a defendant who is charged with robbery is unlikely to be charged with larceny as well.
A defendant’s criminal actions involve the attempt to commit a crime and the actual commission of the same crime. In other words, a defendant who is charged with murder cannot be charged with attempted murder for the same act. However, he or she can be charged with attempted murder for a separate, but related incident.
There are also some situations in which crimes are not usually merged. These include:
If the evidence that is needed to prove two related crimes is not identical, the crimes typically will not be merged. This is true even if the crimes happened at the same time or as a result of the same criminal action.
If two related crimes occur because of separate criminal behaviors, they usually will not be merged. This is true even if the crimes occurred in sequence or as part of a single crime spree in which multiple criminal actions were committed in direct succession.
Conspiracy charges are rarely merged with the crimes to which they apply. This is because conspiracy is technically a separate crime. Since conspiracy charges often carry harsher penalties than the underlying crimes to which they apply, they are usually treated as integral components of criminal cases.
How Does the Sentencing Process Work for Merged Crimes?
Crimes can also be merged during the sentencing process. This usually occurs to prevent the sentences for two similar crimes from combining to become a very harsh compounded sentence. If two crimes are merged for sentencing purposes, the sentence that applies to the more serious crime typically remains in effect. A defendant who believes that he or she has received an unfair sentence for two related crimes may appeal it.