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‘Creative’ charges are leading people into added punishment

An interesting story has come out about how St. Paul works around certain criminal charges to invoke tougher, more punishing charges on people who steal from retail stores. These so-called “outside the box” charges allow police departments and prosecutors to hit people with extensive penalties that, though they may technically be within the confines of the law, they go above and beyond how a person should be punished.

Take, for example, the case of a man who continually robbed retail stores. Obviously, this is a poor decision on the man’s part and he shouldn’t do it. The items he stole were under the $1,000 threshold to qualify his acts as felony theft under Minnesota law.

So what did prosecutors do? They charged the man with multiple counts of felony burglary, which could see him thrown in jail for up to five years and receive a hefty fine. Even though his acts aren’t felony theft, they do qualify as felony burglary.

Is this technically “ok”? Yes, because it is within the confines of the law. But realistically, this just seems like punishing someone for the sake of punishing them. You aren’t supposed to be charged with a crime that exacts the maximum punishment — you are supposed to be charged with a crime that is appropriate and equivalent to the actions you took.

The very fact that the police and prosecutors are thinking “outside the box” like this just to put people away on longer jail sentences is disturbing, and it highlights yet again the need for an experienced criminal defense attorney if you should be charged with a crime.

Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, “St. Paul’s ‘outside-the-box’ charges nail organized retail thieves,” Mara H. Gottfried, March 29, 2014