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Prosecutors pile on charges to force plea deals

Suspects arrested in California for what might appear to be a single criminal act sometimes find themselves facing multiple criminal charges. Laws designed to prosecute criminal gangs or drug cartels sometimes enable prosecutors to add charges of conspiracy or racketeering. In some cases, state and federal prosecutors issue separate charges for a single alleged crime.

Authorities developed conspiracy and racketeering laws to increase their ability to penalize people involved in organized crime operations. Gangs or cartels might organize enterprises that include drug trafficking, prostitution, money laundering and gambling. Individuals within the syndicate generally specialize in only a segment of the operation, but if they have knowledge of other activities or support their planning in even small ways, prosecutors could apply conspiracy charges. Intention to support a crime matters more than actual participation or completion. For example, a person who discusses a plan to murder someone could face conspiracy to commit murder charges even if the act does not occur.

The federal government designed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to target managers of crime organizations. These people give orders that guide criminal activities. RICO, as the act is known, increases penalties against managers. When a case offers a prosecutor the opportunity to increase the number of charges, the potentially long prison sentence might frighten a suspect into accepting a plea deal.

A person who has been charged with drug trafficking, manufacturing or possession might want to have the assistance of a criminal defense attorney at the earliest possible stage of the proceedings. An attorney could evaluate the strength of the evidence and the scope of a plea agreement if one is offered.

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