The Doctrine of Merger of Related Offenses

The doctrine of merger of related offenses "is a rule of statutory construction designed to determine whether the legislature intended for the punishment of one offense to encompass that for another offense arising from the same criminal act or transaction." Commonwealth v. Anderson, 538 Pa. 574, 577, 650 A.2d 20, 21 (1994). The operative inquiry is whether the crimes involved are greater and lesser-included offenses. Zimmerman v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 759 A.2d 953 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000). To determine whether offenses are greater and lesser-included offenses, we compare the elements of the offenses. If the elements of the lesser offense are all included within the elements of the greater offense and the greater offense has at least one additional element, which is different, then the sentences merge. Anderson. If both crimes require proof of at least one element that the other does not, then the sentences do not merge. Id. The elements must be compared as charged in the case, taking into account the underlying factual circumstances of the offenses. Commonwealth v. Comer, 552 Pa. 527, 716 A.2d 593 (1998). However, if two offenses are mutually exclusive and the same evidence could not possibly have satisfied the distinct elements of the two crimes, then this Court cannot broadly construe the elements as to redefine them. Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056 (2001). In addition, where two entirely separate offenses are involved, there can be no argument that one offense is a lesser-included offense of the other. Richards, 827 A.2d at 579. Separate offenses are involved if the actor "commits multiple criminal acts beyond that which is necessary to establish the bare elements of the additional crime." Commonwealth v. Weakland, 521 Pa. 353, 364, 555 A.2d 1228, 1233 (1989). Also, "when a criminal act has been committed, broken off, and then resumed, at least two crimes have occurred and sentences may be imposed for each." Commonwealth v. Belsar, 544 Pa. 346, 351-52, 676 A.2d 632, 634 (1996).