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Understanding How Prior Criminal Records Can Impact Your Case

criminal record lists your convictions and arrest history. Prosecutors can use a defendant’s criminal history to advocate for a harsher punishment, longer jail or prison sentence, and/or aggravated charges. They can also use criminal history to advocate against probation.

Using A Prior Record as An Aggravating Factor

If you have a prior conviction, a judge considers this when choosing the appropriate sentence. For example, robbery has a corresponding punishment of two, three, or five years (mitigated term, midterm, aggravated term.) If you have a prior conviction for theft, the court may sentence you to the aggravated term, or five years. Alternatively, if you have no priors, the court may sentence you to the mitigated, or low, term, two years.

In considering a prior record, the court usually considers the number of convictions, recency of the convictions, and the seriousness of the current offense.

The court also uses prior records as criteria when deciding whether to:

  • Grant deferred sentencing. You can enter a plea of “guilty” or “no contest” to a charge in exchange for deferred sentencing. The judge won’t find you guilty but rather “defers” any finding of guilt in exchange for your acceptance of an alternative course of action. This alternative may mean fulfilling probation (also known as community supervision), attending educational programs, or performing community service of various kinds.
  • Grant or deny probation. As an alternative to imprisonment, the court might place a defendant on probation – a period of supervision served in the community. Probationers must agree to, and follow, conditions to avoid imprisonment.
  • Impose consecutive or concurrent sentences for multiple crimes.

When a prosecutor uses a prior conviction to charge a more serious crime, they must include the prior in the charging document and prove that it happened. However, that primary step raises some legal concerns. The defendant may challenge the constitutional or factual validity of the prior conviction with a motion to strike. Potential grounds for a motion to strike can include:

  • Incorrect police records for the arrest and prosecutions
  • The defendant was denied the right to consult with an attorney
  • Ineffectual assistance of counsel
  • Involuntary plea

The Three Strikes Law

California has what is called the “Three Strikes Law” – meaning if a person has two prior convictions for a “strike” offense, the third strike can result in a life sentence.  A “strike” is a felony offense that is either “violent” or “serious.”  A prior strike offense may double the prison sentence for a new felony conviction. Examples of violent felonies are rape and robbery. Examples of serious felonies are grand theft with a firearm and arson.

Being accused of a crime is serious. When prior convictions or aggravating factors are involved, you may face aggravated charges that can lead to imprisonment. That is why you should seek the legal assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Our experienced defense lawyers at Chastaine Jones can assess your situation and provide the best defenses available to you. Call us at 916-312-6808 or send an email to arrange your consultation.