How Do Prior Criminal Charges Impact Current Charges?
Many people facing criminal charges ask how prior charges or convictions will affect their current case. Will the punishment be worse? Will the prior case enhance the charge to a felony? The answers depend on several factors.
Charged or Convicted?
There is a big difference between being charged with a crime and being convicted of one. If you were charged with a criminal offense in the past but were found not guilty, then that charge will have no effect whatsoever on any subsequent criminal charges.
If, on the other hand, you were found or pled guilty to an offense in the past, that conviction could potentially have an impact on your current case.
Prior Convictions as Evidence at Trial
Whether or not a prior conviction may be introduced as evidence at trial depends on several criteria. These include:
- The nature of both the current charge and the prior offense
- Whether or not you testified in the prior case
- The reason for which the prior conviction is asked to be presented as evidence
As a general rule, the prosecution is not allowed to introduce prior convictions at trial except under very specific circumstances. This is to prevent the prosecution from painting a “once a criminal, always a criminal” picture in the minds of jury members.
The prosecution’s job is to find you guilty based solely on the evidence in the current case. Just because you have been convicted of a charge in the past does not mean that you are guilty of the current charge.
In many criminal cases, the only way a prior conviction will affect or enhance the current case is in regard to sentencing. Depending on the nature of the previous conviction, the District Attorney may file a felony charge versus a misdemeanor charge, which also increases or enhances the sentence in the current case because it is required by law.
Depending on the crime, the previous charge can still be used to enhance your current charge to a felony even if the prior case resulted in a deferred sentence. This is also true even if the previous deferred was expunged.
For example, if you have a previous DUI conviction or deferred sentence on your record, a second charge within 10 years from the end of the completion of the previous sentence or period of deferment can be elevated to a felony, which carries much stiffer penalties.
Defending Previous Convictions
In order to ensure that the prosecution doesn’t unfairly use a prior conviction against you in your current case, it’s important to consult with an experienced defense attorney who can advise you of your rights before, during and after trial.
If a previous conviction or deferred sentence is being used to enhance your current case to a felony, that is an element of the new crime and thus, it must be proven. Our in-house investigator will request the paperwork from your previous case so our attorneys can look through it to see if the use of the previous case as a predicate offense can be proven or used in your new case.
There are other considerations also. For instance, if you choose to testify at trial, then the prosecution may have an opportunity to question you about the prior conviction in front of the jury, which could be devastating for your case.
Our seasoned attorneys will consider all the elements of both your current and former cases and advise you on the best course of action.