Sentencing for Multiple Offenses
How Does Sentencing for Multiple Charges Work?
Getting charged for multiple crimes is not just frightening — it can derail your livelihood. Charges are merely accusations and do not equate to a conviction. This is reassuring to know, although, it’s important to prepare for the worst and hope for the best when faced with criminal charges.
Getting charged with one crime versus multiple crimes can make a world’s difference. This is because if you are convicted for that one crime, your sentence would most likely be shorter than if you were convicted for multiple crimes. Your sentence ultimately depends on the presence of aggravating and mitigating factors, which we explain further below.
Concurrent Sentence vs. Consecutive Sentence: What’s the Difference?
Sentences for multiple charges can run concurrently or consecutively. If you were charged with DUI, reckless driving, and vehicular manslaughter, for example, you may wonder what your sentence would like look if you got convicted for all 3 of these charges. Would you serve time behind bars for each separate offense, or would the term of imprisonment be stacked or combined? It depends. A judge may order you to serve your sentence concurrently or consecutively. We explain the differences below:
- Concurrent sentences: A concurrent sentence means a defendant serves all their sentences at the same time, or “concurrently.” The offender will be released after the longest sentencing term ends.
- Consecutive sentences: If a defendant serves their sentence consecutively, they must serve time for each separate offense. Put otherwise, a defendant must finish the first sentence before serving a sentence for the other crime. This is also called a “stacked” sentence.
As you can see, a concurrent sentence is much more favorable than a consecutive sentence because it imposes less prison time. Referring to the example above, let’s say you were convicted of DUI, reckless driving, and vehicular homicide. If DUI is punishable by 30 days in jail, reckless driving 60 days, and vehicular homicide 8 years, you would serve 8 years behind bars under a concurrent sentence. Under a consecutive sentence, you would serve 8 years and 3 months behind bars.
While judges have the authority to determine whether a sentence runs concurrently or consecutively, the default sentence under federal law is concurrent. On the other hand, New Jersey judges are free to determine whether a defendant’s sentence runs concurrently or consecutively — there is no default rule as there is under federal law.
Certain offenses, however, are subject to mandatory consecutive terms, meaning a defendant will have to serve time for each separate offense. Those crimes include:
- Leaving a motor vehicle accident resulting in death
- Second or third-degree leaving the scene of a boating accident
- Leaving a motor vehicle accident resulting in serious bodily injury
- Third-degree endangering an injured victim
- Third-degree reckless endangerment
- Throwing bodily fluid at a Department of Corrections employee
- Kidnapping a minor and homicide
- Financial facilitation of criminal activity
- Witness tampering
- Violation of a protective order prohibiting witness tampering
- Solicitation of street gang members
- Gang criminality
- Promoting organized street crime
- Booby traps in the manufacturing or distribution of drugs
- Possession of a bump stock or trigger crank
- Possession of a weapon during a drug or bias crime
- Assault by an inmate of a correctional employee, sheriff’s department employee, or police officer
How Does a Judge Decide Whether a Sentence Is Concurrent or Consecutive?
We mentioned before that your sentence depends on whether aggravating and mitigating factors were involved in your alleged crimes. Aggravating factors increase the severity or culpability of a crime while mitigating factors do the opposite — they reduce the severity or culpability of the crime. As such, aggravating factors will generally result in harsher sentences, and mitigating factors will reduce the sentence.
In determining whether to issue a concurrent or consecutive sentence, the court will look at the following aggravating factors:
- The nature and circumstances of the offense, including whether or not it was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner
- The gravity and seriousness of harm inflicted on the victim
- The risk that the defendant will commit another offense
- There is a substantial likelihood that the defendant is involved in organized criminal activity
- The extent of the defendant's prior criminal record and the seriousness of their previously convicted offenses
- A lesser sentence will lower the seriousness of the defendant's offense because it involved a breach of the public trust, or the defendant took advantage of a position of trust or confidence to commit the offense
- The defendant committed the offense against a police or other law enforcement officer, correctional employee, or fireman, acting in the performance of their duties while in uniform or exhibiting evidence of their authority
- The need for deterring the defendant and others from violating the law
- The defendant committed the offense against a person who he knew or should have known was 60 years of age or older, or disabled
- Imposing a fine, penalty or order of restitution without also imposing a term of imprisonment would be perceived by the defendant or others merely as part of the cost of doing business
- The defendant, while in the course of committing or attempting to commit the crime, including the immediate flight therefrom, used or was in possession of a stolen motor vehicle
With this in mind, mitigating circumstances will also be considered in sentencing. The more mitigating factors involved in a case, the higher the chances that a defendant will get a lesser sentence. That said, examples of mitigating factors include:
- The defendant's conduct neither caused nor threatened serious harm
- The defendant did not contemplate that their conduct would cause or threaten serious harm
- The defendant acted under a strong provocation
- There were substantial reasons to excuse or justify the defendant's conduct, though failing to establish a defense
- The victim of the defendant's conduct induced or facilitated its commission
- The defendant has compensated or will compensate the victim of his conduct for the damage or injury that they sustained, or will participate in a program of community service
- The defendant has no history of prior delinquency or criminal activity or has led a law-abiding life for a substantial period of time before the commission of the current offense
- The defendant's conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to recur
- The character and attitude of the defendant indicate that they are unlikely to commit another offense
- The defendant is particularly likely to respond affirmatively to probationary treatment
- The imprisonment of the defendant would entail excessive hardship to themself or their dependents
- The willingness of the defendant to cooperate with law enforcement authorities
- The conduct of a youthful defendant was substantially influenced by another person more mature than the defendant
Now that you have a better understanding of aggravating and mitigating factors in a criminal case, it makes sense to conclude that aggravating factors are more likely to result in consecutive sentences, whereas mitigating factors would likely lead to concurrent sentences. There are no guarantees, however.
If you are charged with multiple crimes, get in touch with our defense team today. As criminal defense experts who are former prosecutors, we know what factors the other side will consider when determining your sentence. With this knowledge and experience, we can help get your charges reduced or dropped completely. Now, let’s get to work.
Schedule your free consultation with our lawyers online or by calling (201) 574-7919!