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 simultaneously. Defendants have to finish serving a jail sentence for one offense before they start serving a sentence for any other crime.
Suppose a defendant in one criminal case is convicted of multiple crimes. In that case, a judge may impose several terms of imprisonment to be served back-to-back in states that allow consecutive sentencing (also known as a cumulative sentence), like Missouri.
In some jurisdictions, cumulative sentences are mandatory if certain crimes are committed together, or an offender is considered dangerous to society. For instance, most jurisdictions require consecutive sentencing when someone murders while committing another felony (such as aggravated criminal sexual assault).
Judges can also impose such sentences if the defendant has committed a crime while 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 be able to order concurrent sentences.
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 a prison sentence of 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 or 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 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 guilt 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 mitigating factors to seek a concurrent sentence. 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.