Court Explains the New Jersey Doctrine of Multiplicity

Under both the United States Constitution and New Jersey law, a person cannot be tried or convicted more than once for the same crime. Thus, if a defendant is found guilty of multiple counts of the same crimes arising out of a singular act, it may constitute a violation of the defendant’s rights and serve as grounds for overturning the conviction. This was demonstrated in a recent case in which the defendant was convicted of two counts of leaving the scene of an accident that caused the death of another person. If you are charged with leaving the scene of an accident or any other crime, it is in your best interest to confer with a dedicated New Jersey criminal defense attorney to discuss your potential defenses.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant, who did not have a license, struck two teenage bicyclists while he was driving on a ramp that led to a highway. The defendant and the three passengers in his vehicle left the scene before the police arrived. One of the bicyclists was killed in the accident, and the other died later in the hospital. After an investigation, the defendant was charged with two counts of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death, one count for each bicyclist. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss one of the counts, arguing that the doctrine of multiplicity prohibited more than one charge for violating the applicable statute.

Reportedly, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion, stating that it was appropriate to charge the defendant with two counts because there were two victims. The defendant reserved the right to appeal the dismissal of his motion and pleaded guilty to both charges. Following his sentencing, the defendant appealed.

The New Jersey Rule Doctrine of Multiplicity

The doctrine of multiplicity bars the State from charging a defendant with more than one count of the same crime when the acts the defendant allegedly committed would only support a conviction for one count. In other words, a defendant may not be tried for multiple identical criminal offenses in multiple counts that arise out of the same conduct. As such, multiplicity occurs when one offense is charged in numerous counts of an indictment. The doctrine against multiplicity relates to the rule against double jeopardy, in that if a defendant is improperly charged, it can lead to an improper conviction of multiple crimes, even though a defendant committed a singular criminal offense.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the statute the defendant was charged with violating, criminalized the decision to leave the scene of an automobile collision that caused the death of another person. Thus, the crime was complete when the defendant left the site, regardless of how many people died. Accordingly, the appellate court ruled that the defendant could only be charged with one count of violating the statute, regardless of how many victims there were and reversed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal defendants are afforded many rights under the law, including the right not to be charged multiple times for a single criminal act. If you were charged with leaving the scene of an accident, it is in your best interest to speak to the knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall regarding your rights and your options for seeking a favorable outcome. You can reach us at 877-450-8301 or through the online form to schedule a meeting.

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