Criminal Defense

Concurrent vs. Consecutive Sentences. What Is The Difference?

December 22, 2022 by Anastasiia Ponomarova in Criminal Defense  
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What are Concurrent Sentences and Consecutive Sentences?

Typically, judges have the authority to determine whether offenders guilty of different offenses should get concurrent or consecutive sentences. The choice may arise when a person is convicted of two charges in the same case or when they are already serving time for a conviction but are prosecuted for another crime later.

A consecutive sentence, sometimes known as a cumulative sentence, does not begin to run until the end of the sentence immediately before it has passed. Consecutive sentences are more extended than concurrent sentences since they are served in order and do not contribute to the total time served.

Although the principle of double jeopardy bars a person from being punished twice for the same conduct, a court in California has ruled that a criminal may be held accountable for cumulative penalties stemming from the same crime if it resulted in several victims. California PC 669 governs the application of cumulative penalties. Rule 4.425 of the California Rules of Judge states that a court must consider the circumstances of the offenses when considering whether to impose a cumulative punishment.

Different from sentencing enhancements, consecutive sentences are a separate concept. Sentencing enhancements consider whether extra penalties are required, whereas cumulative sentences incorporate the construction of sentences following the policy aims.

A concurrent sentence is a punishment judges can give to people guilty of more than one crime. The defendant doesn’t have to serve each sentence one after the other. Instead, they can serve all of their sentences at the same time, with the longest sentence taking priority. Congress passed 18 U.S. Code 3584, which says that consecutive sentences are the rule unless the state law says otherwise or the judge thinks a consecutive sentence is the best way to handle the case. If a person is found guilty of trying to commit a crime and then actually does it, the judge won’t be able to give that person a consecutive sentence.

Factors That Lead To a Consecutive Sentence

Because they make a crime worse and make the person who did it more responsible, aggravating factors can make it likely that a defendant will get a consecutive sentence. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime lists the following as things that can make a situation worse:

  • Having a criminal record, especially for serious crimes.
  • Proof of planning.
  • A child was there when the crime was done.
  • There is a good chance they will do it again.
  • The harm that was meant to happen was worse than what did happen.
  • The crime was committed by a group of criminals who worked together.
  • The crime was done to get money or something else.
  • Efforts to stop or slow down the way justice is done.
  • The criminal broke the rules before the trial or as part of their sentence.
  • Targeted were weak people.
  • People used weapons to scare or hurt their victim(s).
  • Violence or degrading treatment was used on purpose, over and over, or for no reason.
  • Offenders used their power, authority, or trust in the wrong way.
  • There was more than one victim or more than one event.

Factors That Lead To A Concurrent Sentence

On the other hand, mitigating factors make a crime less destructive and less guilty. If a judge finds mitigating circumstances in your case, you may have a better chance of getting a concurrent sentence. Also, mitigating factors can be things like the criminal:

  • Does not have a record.
  • Has been good in the past.
  • Has a physical or mental disability.
  • Has shown regret or good behavior after being caught.
  • Did the wrong thing because they had to.
  • Had problems in the past that led to criminal behavior.
  • Feels guilty.
  • Played a small part in the crime.

What are California’s laws?

California’s criminal laws allow for sentences that come one after the other and sentences that come simultaneously. Rule 4.425(a) of the California Rules of Court says that a court looks at several factors when deciding on a sentence. Some of these questions are: The defendant was violent, the accused is a serious threat to the community, and the accused committed an offense while on probation. The court deciding the sentence will also examine the defendant’s past criminal record. During the sentencing phase, a judge can order an accused to serve time in either: a county jail or a state prison.

PC 2933 allows for “good time credit” depending on the accused’s crime. Defendant gets good time credit if they act reasonably in jail. If given, it will help a prisoner spend less time in jail or prison.

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