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One Criminal Act or Many?

For those not familiar with criminal law, it can be confusing why some criminal defendants face several dozen counts because of what appears to be a single criminal act whereas other defendants face only one or two charges as a result of what appears to be multiple acts of crime. For example, a mass murderer may face a charge of murder for each victim he or she killed, even though each victim was killed during the same shooting event. However, a burglar may be charged with only one act of theft even though he or she returns to the same location over the course of a few days and removes items each day.

One Act, One Crime, One Punishment

Generally speaking, a defendant who commits a single criminal act can be convicted of one crime and punished once for that criminal act. It is inappropriate for the same conduct to result in multiple punishments. For example: Suppose a defendant steals a product from a store and is apprehended by police a short time later. The value of the product is unknown. It would be inappropriate for the defendant to be convicted of misdemeanor theft and felony theft simply because the value of the product is unknown (the judge or jury would need to elect one charge or the other if it believed the defendant was guilty of theft). Similarly, the sentencing court could not impose two criminal sentences on the defendant for the single offense of stealing.

This principle explains why mass shooters can be charged with one count of murder for every person they kill (or attempted murder for every person they attempt, but fail, to kill): Each act of pointing the gun or weapon at a different person and pulling the trigger or otherwise using the weapon is its own distinct act.

When Acts are Combined or Aggregated

In certain cases, certain criminal acts completed at different times are aggregated or combined to form a single criminal act. For example, under the Florida Communications Fraud Act, all amounts received pursuant to a single fraudulent scheme are combined to determine the severity of the criminal offense. Thus, if the defendant employs one scheme and defrauds 50 people out of $1,000 each, the defendant will be charged with one count of operating a fraudulent scheme and causing a loss of $50,000 even though (technically speaking) the defendant fraudulently schemed 50 separate individuals out of money. (In this case, the criminal act is the scheme itself.)

This concept can be difficult to understand, so if you find yourself charged with multiple offenses stemming from a single act or occurrence it is important that a competent and experienced Florida criminal defense attorney review your case and defend your rights to ensure you are not unlawfully convicted of multiple crimes or sentenced multiple times for the same criminal act. Attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner can help you accomplish these important tasks. Contact his South Florida office today by calling (305) 670-9919 or by completing his firm’s online form and allow him to prepare and present a strong defense to your charges.

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