What is an unreasonable multiplication of charges, and why does it matter?

If you have ever read a court-martial charge sheet, you have probably wondered how one allegation of a crime could turn into five different charges. Prosecutors frequently break an incident down into multiple offenses when they prepare the charge sheet. For example, one fistfight could end up with several specifications of assault, one for each punch thrown or body part hit. This is usually done to make it easier for the court members to figure out exactly what an accused servicemember is guilty of, but if a defense attorney is not on his or her toes, it could result in years of added jail time for the accused.

Rule for Courts-Martial 307(c)(4) says that what is “substantially one transaction should not be made into the basis for an unreasonable multiplication of charges against one person.” When one allegation is made into several charges, the maximum punishment for each charged offense is added together. In our example above, one charge of assault consummated by a battery has a maximum confinement term of six months. If that one fight is instead charged as six specifications of assault, the maximum confinement is now three years.
If a defense attorney objects to this unreasonable multiplication of charges at trial, the military judge may merge the charged offenses for sentencing purposes and reduce the maximum punishment to what it would be for one offense. Even if the military judge does not agree, raising the issue at trial allows the appellate courts to fully review the issue and potentially alter the sentence or order a new sentencing proceeding.

On the other hand, if a defense attorney does not make this objection at trial the accused servicemember can not only end up with a greater punishment, but also lose the ability to raise the issue on appeal. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) recently held in United States v. Hardy that when the defense does not raise the issue of unreasonable multiplication of charges before pleas are entered, that the issue is waived and the ability of a higher court to review the issue on appeal is limited.

If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial or want to appeal a court-martial, you need someone with experience who knows what arguments to make on your behalf, and when to make them. I have argued this issue, and numerous others in front of appellate courts and CAAF. I have the experience you need. Please call Bill Cassara at (706) 860-5769 for a free consultation.

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