Consecutive vs. Concurrent Sentences: All You Need To Know

Consecutive sentences are similar to concurrent sentences. However, one of them follows a specific format, and the other is stacked after the first.

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Kimberly J. Benjamin, Founder & Managing Attorney

June 24. 2022.

What Are Consecutive Sentences?


The term “consecutive sentences” refers to imposing two or more prison or jail sentences in succession rather than at the same time. Defendants have to finish serving a jail sentence for one offense before they start serving a sentence for any other crime.

If a defendant, in one criminal case, is convicted of multiple crimes, a judge may impose several terms of imprisonment to be served back-to-back in states that allow consecutive sentencing, like Missouri.

In some jurisdictions, consecutive sentences are mandatory if certain crimes are committed together or if an offender is considered dangerous to society. For instance, most jurisdictions require consecutive sentencing when someone murders while committing another felony (such as sexual assault).

Judges can also impose such sentences if the defendant has committed a crime while already serving jail time for another crime.

What Are Concurrent Sentences?


Concurrent sentences are multiple sentences that a defendant serves at the same time. They minimize the amount of time a defendant spends in jail or prison. The offender is released once the longest sentence has ended.

Judges decide when to impose consecutive sentences, where they are served one after another (like falling dominoes), or concurrent sentences, where they are served simultaneously (like parallel bars).

When an offender’s crimes are not very serious and are part of a single criminal episode, a judge may have the discretion to order concurrent sentences.

Key Differences Between Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences


Both consecutive and concurrent sentences are typically imposed when a person is convicted of multiple crimes in the same criminal case.

  • Concurrent sentences shorten a defendant’s jail time, whereas consecutive sentences ensure they serve the lengthiest time in jail or prison.
  • When serving concurrent sentences, a convicted person can finish all their sentences at the same time. Meanwhile, they can only begin serving a sentence once another has been completed, and so on.
  • Concurrent sentences are ordered for less serious crimes, while consecutive sentences are ordered for serious crimes. The more severe crimes include murder, armed robbery, first-degree burglary, etc.

Trusted lawyers in Kansas City will help you fight multiple criminal charges against you and advocate for concurrent sentencing in court.

Examples of Concurrent and Consecutive Sentencing

For instance, a defendant who commits a bank robbery may be charged with armed robbery and firearm possession at the time of the crime.

If convicted of both offenses, the judge might order concurrent sentences (for example, three years for armed robbery and five years for using a firearm to commit a crime). The defendant would then serve three years for both offenses, rather than three years for armed robbery and five for using the firearm.

You would be convicted of two crimes if you were convicted of bank robbery and arson (setting fire to something). If the judge ordered you to serve the sentences consecutively, you would serve your actual sentence for robbery and then your arson sentence.

If the judge had ordered them to be served concurrently, you would serve both sentences simultaneously instead of having to wait until the first one was finished before beginning the second.

How Do Judges Decide Between Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences?


Judges decide sentences based on many different factors. They consider the aggravating factors, mitigating factors, crime severity, etc. A person convicted of a serious crime like murder or robbery usually gets consecutive sentences.

A consecutive sentence might be ordered if the convicted person has committed another crime while serving a jail sentence for one crime. A habitual offender also has a high chance of receiving consecutive sentences and the maximum prison term.


Factors That Affect Sentencing

When it comes to sentencing, judges usually have broad discretion in deciding whether to impose concurrent or consecutive sentences on an offender.

While predicting how a judge will rule is not always possible, some factors can impact your chances of receiving a concurrent sentence over a consecutive sentence.

Judges usually look at the nature of your crime, prior criminal history, and circumstances surrounding the crime when making decisions regarding sentencing. For example, suppose you are convicted of multiple crimes, but you don’t have a prior conviction. In that case, you might successfully argue for a concurrent sentence instead of consecutive sentences.


Aggravating Factors Affecting Consecutive and Concurrent Sentencing

A defendant’s chances of getting a consecutive sentence increase if aggravating factors increase the severity and culpability of the crime. Aggravating circumstances include:

  • Any previous convictions, especially for serious crimes.
  • The severity of the crime – whether they were incredibly violent or harmful, and how each crime compares in seriousness to the others.
  • Evidence of prior planning.
  • Whether there’s a high chance of recidivism – whether there’s an indication that the defendant might commit more crimes in the future.
  • Whether the offense was committed by an organized crime group like a gang.
  • Whether the accused interfered with the administration of justice in any way.
  • The offender committed a crime while on probation or subject to pre-trial conditions. 

What are Mitigating Factors?

On the other hand, mitigating factors reduce the severity and culpability of a crime. Your criminal defense attorney must highlight any and all mitigating factors to seek a sentence that is concurrent. Mitigating factors include:

  • Not having a criminal record.
  • The offender:
    • has a good reputation
    • has a mental and/or physical disability
    • has been remorseful or shown good behavior after being arrested
    • committed the offense under duress
    • was a victim of unfortunate circumstances that resulted in criminal activity, such as extreme poverty leading one to steal money
    • is very young/old
    • played a minor role in the offense

Sentencing is more complicated than it seems. Consider speaking to an armed criminal action defense lawyer if you have sentencing questions.

Consecutive vs. Concurrent Sentences


If you face multiple criminal charges, the chances are high that you will serve multiple sentences if you are convicted. It is essential to work closely with a criminal defense attorney throughout your case.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help gather evidence and present compelling arguments that may help convince the sentencing court to hand down a concurrent sentence instead of a consecutive sentence.

Contact lawyers in Grandview and start building an attorney-client relationship today for effective representation in court.

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