Home U.S What prosecutors did to the Tiger King shouldn't happen to anyone else....

What prosecutors did to the Tiger King shouldn't happen to anyone else. But it does.


This month marks a year since a scrum of sequined shirts, severed limbs and wild cats introduced us to Tiger King Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka “Joe Exotic” and the epic battle between him and his nemesis, Carole Baskin. We may be re-introduced to them in the fall as rumors abound of a second season of the streaming hit.

Maldonado-Passage remains incarcerated after being convicted of 19 crimes, but he has several post-conviction plans in the works. There’s also a BBC Two documentary brewing that is slated to cover, in part, the folks working to free him.  

What the Netflix series brings to light (aside from the dangers of corralling wild cats) is the outrageous prosecutorial practice of charge stacking. Prosecutors used this tactic against Maldonado-Passage — as well as other high-profile defendants — and achieved results that call the integrity of the criminal legal system into question. 

The system endows prosecutors with almost unfettered discretion. They choose how to charge someone, where and when and — perhaps most important — how many times they’re charged. 

The Tiger King Joseph "Joe Exotic" Maldonado-Passage with one of his tigers.

Charge stacking, sometimes known as “charge piling,” is the practice of adding as many charges as possible against a particular defendant, even if it’s all for the same conduct.

The potential sentence length and list become so formidable that the accused usually acquiesces and agrees to a plea arrangement in order to avoid the trial penalty. The defendants who insist on a trial will have that insistence held against them in the form of an enhanced sentence. We call the process a “bargain,” a funny name to call a deal made between one party who has nothing to barter and another with all the power. In other contexts, this would be called extortion.  


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