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One-Act, One-Crime Doctrine Protects Defendants

Posted on in Criminal Law

One-Act, One-Crime Doctrine Protects DefendantsAs a criminal defendant, you may be surprised by how one alleged act can lead to multiple criminal charges. A reckless driving charge may accompany a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A robbery charge may include an additional assault or battery charge. Filing multiple charges for the same alleged offense is a prosecution strategy. Prosecutors will pursue a severe charge against you but also file a lesser charge in case the court rejects the more severe charge. However, courts are not allowed to convict you on related charges stemming from the same physical action.

One-Act, One-Crime Doctrine

A court cannot convict you for reckless driving if it has already decided to convict you for DUI. This would violate the one-act, one-crime doctrine, which states that a defendant can be convicted for one crime per physical action that he or she committed. When multiple related charges apply to one action, the court must limit its conviction to the highest-level charge for which it has found the defendant to be guilty. In the hypothetical DUI example:

  • The defendant may be guilty of both DUI and reckless driving with the same action, but the court can convict him or her for only the DUI charge because it is the more serious offense; and
  • If the court finds the defendant not guilty of DUI, it may still convict him or her for reckless driving if the evidence supports this ruling.

Recent Case

Prosecutors try to obtain convictions on multiple related charges by claiming that there were multiple actions resulting in different offenses. In the Illinois case of People v. Brown, the defendant appealed his conviction for robbery and battery, citing the one-act, one-crime doctrine. According to the case records, the man was allegedly involved in the robbery of a senior citizen outside of a bank. Medical examiners concluded that an offender punched the man once on his side, likely causing him to drop the deposit bags he was carrying. Robbery and battery both involve the use of violence. Because evidence suggested that only one punch was thrown, the offense consisted of only one act of violence. Thus, the appellate court vacated the battery conviction because the defendant could not be convicted twice for the same action.

Understanding Your Charges 

Prosecutors can intimidate you by presenting a long list of criminal charges against you. However, they do not expect to be successful in pursuing all of those charges. A McHenry County criminal defense attorney at Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, can explain what the charges against you mean and how to contest them. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838.



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