The Impact of Prior Criminal Convictions

A Criminal Record Can Mean Higher Fines and Longer Sentences

If you have a criminal record and are charged with another crime you face the possibility of enhanced penalties, including higher fines and a longer sentence than someone who is a first-time offender. A slight record, like one or two misdemeanors or a conviction from many years ago, is unlikely to have a significant impact on a second case. But the more recent and more severe your criminal record, the more it will affect sentencing in a subsequent case.

American courts have been considering a criminal defendant’s criminal record since 1773 when the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation that provided enhanced penalties for repeat offenders. This tradition has continued to the present, as people labeled as “habitual offenders” are subject to harsher penalties than people for whom the same crime is a first offense.

Prior convictions can impact a criminal case in two primary ways. The first is at trial, where evidence of prior convictions can be used to show that a defendant is not trustworthy. The second is at sentencing.

Admissibility of Prior Convictions at Trial

Ordinarily, there are few instances in which evidence of prior bad acts can be introduced at trial. However, evidence of prior bad acts is admissible when a defendant testifies on their own behalf. This can be particularly damaging for defendants. When a witness testifies, the judge or jury is allowed to consider evidence that bears on whether the witness is telling the truth. This includes evidence of prior bad acts, as this evidence is said to aid the jury in deciding whether the witness (the defendant in this case) is trustworthy.

Because evidence of prior criminal acts can be so damaging, most criminal defense lawyers recommend that their clients do not testify at trial. Evidence of prior bad acts is admissible only if the defendant testifies. If the defendant does not testify, the jury usually will not hear evidence of prior criminal convictions.

Not every prior conviction is admissible at trial, and judges and the rules of evidence recognize that jurors are likely to be swayed by evidence of prior bad acts. Prior felony convictions are generally only admissible at trial if they occurred within the last 10 years.

In addition to the type of crime and how long ago it was committed, judges may also consider whether the prior criminal offense has a tendency to show that the defendant is or is not telling the truth in the current case. In deciding whether evidence of prior convictions can be considered, the judge must evaluate how long ago the prior conviction occurred, whether the defendant was imprisoned for that crime and, if so, for how long, the defendant’s age at the time of conviction (juvenile crimes are generally not admissible), the importance of the defendant’s testimony in the current case, and the defendant’s conduct since the prior conviction.

Because evidence of prior convictions can be so damaging for a criminal defendant, it is critical that people who have criminal records hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help minimize the impact of a criminal record on a new criminal charge.

Admissibility of Prior Convictions at Sentencing

The rules are different at sentencing. Once a defendant pleads guilty or has been convicted, the judge will determine a sentence. Criminal sentencing can range from probation and community service, to years in prison, or even the death penalty. The judge can consider evidence of prior convictions in deciding whether to enhance the defendant’s sentence. For certain offenses, like when sentencing repeat DWUI offenders, prior convictions must be considered. If a person previously committed the same offense, the judge will likely consider evidence of a prior criminal conviction when sentencing the defendant.

Repeat Offenders Face Harsher Sentences

A defendant’s prior criminal record can have a profound impact on sentencing if a person is accused of a subsequent crime. In most cases, repeat offenders will face a harsher sentence than someone who has been charged for the first time. Prosecutors cite statistics claiming that repeat offenders, also known as recidivists, are more likely to reoffend, and pose additional dangers to people and property. As a result, repeat offenders are more likely to receive a harsher sentence than someone who has a clean record, even if the two people are charged with the same crime. For many crimes, especially DWUI and domestic violence charges, statutes mandate a harsher sentence for repeat offenders. People who have previously been convicted of the same or a substantially similar crime are also likely to receive harsher sentences. In addition to higher fines and longer sentences, repeat offenders must also deal with other collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.

Other Collateral Consequences for Repeat Criminal Offenders

Many people with criminal records face additional collateral consequences, such as being barred from public housing or losing eligibility for public assistance, and may not be allowed to live in the family home or participate in certain volunteer activities. People with felony convictions are prohibited from voting, possessing firearms, and may not be able to live in certain areas.

Additionally, prior criminal convictions make it harder to get a job as many job applications disqualify people who have a criminal record. Whether a criminal conviction will prevent you from getting a job often depends on the type of job you’re applying for and the crime you were convicted of committing.

Charged with a Crime and Have a Criminal Record? Just Criminal Legal Group Can Help

If you or someone you care about has a criminal conviction and is facing another criminal charge, a criminal defense lawyer can help. At Just Criminal Legal Group, our founder and former prosecutor Christina L. Williams and her team of criminal defense professionals vigorously defend our clients, fighting hard to protect their rights.

Learn more about the communities we serve and why clients choose us, then contact us today to schedule your personalized case review and strategy session. Call us at (307) 686-6556, email, or complete our online form.

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DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.