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What is a lesser-included offense?

On Behalf of | May 1, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Few things in life are more stressful than facing criminal prosecution, especially if your freedom is in jeopardy. Fortunately, prosecutors cannot secure a conviction without evidence. Indeed, they must prove each element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

If prosecutors charge you with a serious crime, you should know about the lesser-included offense doctrine. That is, while prosecutors might not be able to win a conviction on a major charge, they might be able to convince a judge or jury that you are guilty of a lesser-included offense.

The lesser-included offense doctrine

As you probably know, there are thousands of crimes a person can commit. Most of these crimes have different severity levels. For example, if you have several grams of cocaine, prosecutors might charge you with intent to distribute a controlled substance. There is a lesser crime, though, which is simple possession.

The crux of the lesser-included offense doctrine is that it often is not possible to commit a serious crime without also simultaneously committing a less serious one. If prosecutors cannot prove you intended to sell the drugs you were carrying, for example, they might be able to show you knowingly possessed cocaine.

Your defense strategy

The penalties for violating the most serious crimes are often extreme. A conviction for a lesser-included offense might come with a more lenient sentence. Moreover, according to Pennsylvania law, prosecutors cannot try you again if a judge or jury acquits you of the greater offense.

Ultimately, if you are facing criminal charges for a serious matter, considering how lesser-included offenses affect your case might be an important part of your defense strategy.