Consecutive and Concurrent Sentences

Often during the commission of a crime, a defendant breaks more than one law. For example, if an alleged defendant robs a liquor store and injures an employee during the robbery, the defendant would be charged with robbery and assault for the harm of the employee. He would be punished for each charge. When a judge sentences a defendant for several crimes during one sentencing hearing, he has the option to order a concurrent or consecutive punishment. Depending on the decision of the judge, a defendant may spend a very long time in prison.

The Difference Between Consecutive and Concurrent

Depending on the laws of the state, the judge has the discretion to order a consecutive or concurrent sentence. When a defendant is given two or more sentences, a consecutive sentence is one in which each sentence is served one after the other. Each sentence is served one at a time. When the first sentence ends, the next one begins until the defendant has endured each of his punishments.

A concurrent sentence is one in which two or more penalties are taken at the same time. If a defendant gets two sentences, each for five years, both are served concurrently at the same time. That means, instead of serving 10 years in prison, the defendant serves just five.

How a Judge Decides Sentencing for Multiple Sentences

State and federal laws determine whether a concurrent or consecutive sentence is ordered by a judge. Federal courts use the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which describe the length of a criminal sentence and whether multiple charges should be served consecutively or concurrently.

As a general rule, sentences for multiple convictions should be ordered by default as concurrent sentences. A judge can order a defendant to serve more than one sentence at a time based on his or her discretion. When multiple sentences are ordered, the court includes whether or not they are consecutive or concurrent on the sentencing order. In most states, if this item is not on the sentencing order, the sentence is automatically considered to be consecutive in nature.

A judge will consider several factors when deciding to order a consecutive or concurrent sentence. Some of these factors include:

  • Nature of the crime
  • The defendant’s criminal history
  • Protection of society
  • Whether other punishments such as fines would be more appropriate
  • Whether the cumulative terms fit the crimes committed

By receiving concurrent sentences for multiple crimes, a defendant may spend significantly less time behind bars. An experienced criminal defense attorney can assist with a request for concurrent sentencing.

For additional information about multiple convictions, reach out to Madrid Law at 713-877-9400.