What is the Doctrine of Merger?
The doctrine of merger applies in a criminal setting where the defendant committed two or more crimes in a single act, but is only charged with one crime. Essentially, the multiple instances are “merged” by a judge, or combined into a single charge. According to the merger doctrine, a defendant may sometimes serve a criminal sentence for only one crime instead of several. Watts v. State, 321 Ga. App. 289, 739 S.E.2d 129 (2013). A defendant may not be tried, convicted, and sentenced for the same crime twice. Being put to trial of the same crime twice is known as “double jeopardy,” and is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The merger doctrine was instituted as a way to help avoid issues with double jeopardy. Garrett v. State, 306 Ga. App. 429, 702 S.E.2d 470 (2010).
What Types of Crimes May Be Merged?
Lesser Included Offenses: Merger usually applies when one crime is considered to be a “lesser included offense” of a more serious crime. Parker v. State, 249 Ga. App. 530, 549 S.E.2d 154 (2001). For example, larceny, commonly referred to as “theft,” is a simple crime where one person takes another person’s property without permission. Robbery also includes such actions of theft, except the theft is commonly done by the use of force or intimidation. Therefore, theft is considered a “lesser included offense” of robbery. Thus, if a person steals a wallet at gunpoint, they cannot be convicted of both larceny and robbery, as any larceny will merge into the robbery charges.
Attempted Crimes: Attempted crimes merge with the actual crime, once the actual crime is completed. For example, most courts do not try defendants for both attempted burglary and actual burglary. If the person actually completed the burglary, any attempted burglary charges will merge with the actual burglary charges.
Conspiracy: Conspiracy charges normally will not merge with the completed crime. For example, if a person participates in a plan to rob a bank with others, and then they actually rob the bank, the participant can be charged with both conspiracy and robbery.
How can the Merger Doctrine help my case?
1) Fewer Charges: The doctrine of merger allows the defendant to receive a fewer number of charges on their criminal record. Instead of being charged with more than one crime, the defendant will only be convicted of one crime.
2) Severity of Consequences: The merger doctrine may also result in a less severe sentence for the defendant than if they were to be charged with each separate crime. In instances where a lesser crime merges with a more serious crime, the defendant will often have to serve the criminal punishments for the more serious crime, and the penalties for the lesser crime will not be enforced. Ga.Code Ann. § 16–1–7(a).
What should I do If I have questions about my crimes being merged together?
If you or someone you know has been charged with multiple crimes and wants to know if their crimes can merge, give Bixon Law a call. We have assisted many clients in receiving lesser sentences through the doctrine of merger. At Bixon Law, we devote 100% of our time to helping our clients fight criminal law matters. Don’t take your case to an attorney that specializes in everything, here we specialize in ONE thing and that’s Criminal Defense. Call us 24/7 at (404) 551-5684.