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California Penal Code 654 PC - Multiple Punishments For Same Act Prohibited


Los Angeles Criminal Defense LawyerUnder Penal Code § 654 PC, engaging in a single criminal act or omission that violates multiple laws can result in being charged and convicted for multiple crimes. However, when it comes to sentencing, the individual can only be punished for the offense carrying the most severe penalty. This provision is in place to protect defendants in California from facing excessive punishment or being subjected to “double jeopardy.” The primary objective is to ensure fairness and prevent multiple punishments for the same action.

This is commonly observed in cases of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), wherein a prosecutor may file charges against a defendant for both violating Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) by driving under the influence, and violating Vehicle Code Section 23152(b) by driving with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of more than 0.08 percent.

As mentioned, the prohibition on multiple punishments for the same offense aligns with the “double jeopardy” principle under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which applies in California. This constitutional protection ensures that an individual cannot face multiple punishments for the same offense, including prosecution after acquittal or double convictions for the same crime.

However, if an act committed by someone leads to the commission of two separate crimes, they can be charged with both offenses in one case. This legal process, known as a “joinder,” applies to both misdemeanor crimes and felony offenses. Let’s explore this law further and understand how it is applied in practice.

654. (a) An act or omission that is punishable in different ways by different provisions of law shall be punished under the provision that provides for the longest potential term of imprisonment, but in no case shall the act or omission be punished under more than one provision. An acquittal or conviction and sentence under any one bars a prosecution for the same act or omission under any other. (b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), a defendant sentenced pursuant to subdivision (a) shall not be granted probation if any of the provisions that would otherwise apply to the defendant prohibits the granting of probation.



  • Although Lisa commits trespass (PC 602) and petty theft (PC 484) by sneaking into her neighbor’s home and taking his watch, she can only be punished for the offense with the longer jail term between the two.
  • Jose commits the crimes of burglary (PC 459) and petty theft (PC 484). He breaks into his ex-girlfriend’s home with the intention of stealing one of her paintings, and he successfully carries out the theft. Although this constitutes a single act, Jose is considered to have committed two separate crimes. However, according to Penal Code 654, he can only be punished for one offense, and that punishment will be based on the offense with the longer jail term. If it is determined that an individual has committed multiple crimes as a result of distinct acts, they may be subject to punishment for each individual offense.


Penal Code 654, which prohibits multiple punishments for the same offense, is a fundamental component of the “double jeopardy” concept under California law. The Double Jeopardy Clause, outlined in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, ensures that individuals are protected from prosecution after acquittal for the same offense, double convictions for the same offense, and multiple punishments for the same offense. These constitutional protections have also been integrated into California state law through the inclusion of the double jeopardy clause in California Penal Code 687.


In California, courts apply the “transaction test” to determine if multiple crimes are the result of a single act or multiple acts. This test considers whether the crimes are all part of the same transaction. When applying the transaction test, courts primarily consider two factors: the intent and objective of the defendant.

According to a court ruling, the divisibility of a course of criminal conduct, and therefore whether it constitutes one act or multiple acts under section 654, depends on the intent and objective of the defendant. If all the offenses were incident to one objective, the defendant may be punished for any of those offenses, but not for more than one.


In a California jury trial, if an individual commits a certain act that results in multiple offenses, it is possible for all of these offenses to be charged within a single case. This is achieved through a legal process called joinder.


Prosecutors have the authority to join two or more offenses in the same case under specific circumstances:

  • The offenses are based on the same act or transaction.
  • The offenses are based on two or more acts or transactions that are connected together.
  • The offenses constitute a common scheme or plan.

Essentially, this means that the District Attorney (D.A.) is not required to bring separate cases for each individual offense if they are sufficiently related.

It is important to note that related offenses can be consolidated into one case regardless of whether they are classified as felonies or misdemeanors.

Typically, prosecutors make the decision regarding joinder at the outset of a case, often before the California arraignment.


  • Penal Code 484 – Petty Theft
  • Penal Code § 211 PC – Robbery
  • Penal Code § 459 PCBurglary
  • Vehicle Code 23152 – DUI
  • Penal Code 240 PC – Assault
  • Penal Code 242 PC – Battery
  • Penal Code 594 PC – Vandalism
  • Penal Code § 187 PC – Murder
  • Penal Code § 261 PCRape
  • Penal Code § 503 PC – Embezzlement


Penal Code § 654 PC is a cornerstone of California criminal law, ensuring that defendants are treated justly and protected against redundant prosecutions and excessive punishments. By embedding the principles of double jeopardy and providing for the rational application of the law through the transaction test and joinder, Penal Code § 654 upholds the integrity of the legal system and the rights of individuals. Whether it is through preventing multiple sentences for the same act or ensuring that only the most severe penalty is imposed, Penal Code § 654 stands as a testament to the balance between efficient law enforcement and the protection of constitutional rights.


If you find yourself in a situation where you are charged twice for the same act or have concerns regarding double jeopardy, it’s crucial to seek professional legal guidance. At Tabibnia Law Firm, we specialize in navigating the complexities of California criminal law, including the intricacies of Penal Code § 654 PC. Cyrus Tabibnia as a criminal defense lawyer is dedicated to reviewing your case details and exploring all legal options available to you.

Cyrus may also engage in negotiations with the prosecutor to potentially prevent formal charges through pre-filing intervention, known as a “DA reject.”

Don’t navigate these challenging legal waters alone. Contact Cyrus Tabibnia at Tabibnia Law Firm by calling 866-713-2159. He is here to offer you the support and representation you need to fight back effectively. Let him help you ensure that your rights are protected every step of the way.


Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia, also known as Shahrooz Tabibnia, is a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, California. With a law degree from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, he has been practicing law since 2005 and holds license #237348. With over 18 years of experience, Cyrus specializes in various misdemeanor and felony criminal Law including Domestic Violence, Theft Crime, Sex crime, DUI & DWI, Personal Injury, Employment Law, and Cannabis & Marijuana Drugs Law. Being bilingual in English, Persian, and Spanish enables him to effectively communicate with a diverse range of clients. From 2014 to 2018, he served as a board member of the Iranian American Bar Association. An expungement attorney in Los Angeles who can assist you in clearing your criminal record in the state of California.

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