lesser crime

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Also known as lesser included offense. A crime that is necessarily committed in carrying out a greater crime because the greater crime contains all of the elements of the lesser crime. For example, a defendant who is convicted of murder is also necessarily guilty of battery, because the elements of murder include the offense of battery. Despite that, a jury cannot convict a defendant of both a greater and lesser crime for the same conduct. However, a court may instruct a jury to convict the defendant on a lesser crime even if they are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the greater crime. Prosecutors sometimes decide to charge a defendant with a lesser crime to increase their chances of securing a conviction, rather than risking an acquittal at trial for a greater crime. Prosecutors also use lesser crimes to encourage plea bargaining by offering to reduce a charge from the greater offense to the lesser offense in exchange for a guilty plea.

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]