A recent South Texas drug case involving multiple defendants illustrates the workings of concurrent/consecutive sentencing. The five defendants convicted in the case, including on drug trafficking charges, were sentenced to serve some of their sentences currently while others were ordered by the judge to be served consecutively.
The difference between these two types of sentence is quite simple: if you are charged with multiple crimes and sentenced to serve two concurrent 20-year prison terms, that means you’ll be in prison fo 20 years, but if the sentences are consecutive, it means 40 years behind bars.
What factors determine when a judge must, or should, impose consecutive sentences? In this post, we’re going to look at consecutive versus concurrent terms and explain how the system works. Let’s start with the case we mentioned above.
The Case of the Texas Drug Traffickers
In Corpus Christi, five members of a drug trafficking ring were sentenced to serve time in federal prison for various convictions related to drugs and firearm possession charges. Their sentences range from 11 ½ years to 35 years in prison.
One man, 27-year-old Longino Castillo, will serve a 35-year concurrent sentence with a concurrent 30-year term for drug offenses. He received a 10-year and 5-year sentences for firearms convictions. The judge ordered that 10-year sentence to run concurrent with the 35 and 30 year terms and the 5-year term to run consecutive to the 30-year term.
The end result?
An aggregate sentence of 35 years.
Two other defendants will serve similar sentences with consecutive terms. The men received such sentencing due to aggravating factors, such as the manufacture of synthetic narcotics and the size of the firearms stash recovered in the investigation.
Reasons for Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences
Judges are granted the discretion in some cases to decide whether a defendant can serve concurrent or consecutive sentences when convicted for multiple crimes in the same case while consecutive sentencing mandated by statute in other cases. For example, some sentences are mandated by law to be served consecutively.
When a defendant is found guilty of several crimes that all require long prison sentences, concurrent sentences are obviously much more desirable than consecutive sentences. Judges usually consider a defendant’s past criminal history and the severity of the crimes to determine the type of sentencing that should be employed in these kinds of cases. However, as noted above, there are situations where the judge lacks sentencing discretion and must impose as a matter of law a consecutive term of imprisonment.
If the state forbids double punishment for convictions resulting from a single act, the judge may lawfully issue a single sentence. The drug trafficking case described above, though, was tried at the federal level. Moreover, the crimes were varied in scope and depth, which is probably why the judge decided to issue both concurrent and consecutive sentences.
Isn’t This a Kind of Double Punishment?
The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects you from being punished twice for the same act. Because of this, a judge will carefully consider whether the crimes are for the same conduct before issuing a sentence.
However, a judge will not typically apply the ban on double punishment if the same conduct in multiple crimes results in violent offenses against more than one victim. The judge will look at several factors to determine the sentencing, such as:
- Did the defendant have one objective or more than one objective?
- Does the evidence point to more than one objective?
- What do the witness accounts tell about the objectives?
- A concurrent or consecutive sentence will be issued when there is no risk of double punishment.
If you are facing charges for multiple offenses, it’s important to consult with a knowledgeable Texas criminal attorney who can explain your options and knows how to fight these types of cases. If it looks like you are going to be sentenced, you will want someone who can negotiate hard for you to receive concurrent sentences rather than consecutive ones. Reach out today for a free legal consultation.