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Consecutive vs. Concurrent Sentences
(Examples and Definition)

A consecutive sentence is one which does not begin to run until the expiration of a prior sentence, whereas concurrent sentences are served simultaneously. Therefore, consecutive sentences follow one another and add (as opposed to combine) to the duration of one’s sentence.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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Examples of Consecutive and Concurrent Sentences

Let's say a jury convicts a defendant on 2 separate charges. The judge sentences them to 3 years in prison for Count 1 and 2 years for Count 2. If the judge orders that the sentences be served consecutively, the prison sentence will be a total of 5 years.

If the judge orders that the sentences run concurrently, the defendant's sentence would be 3 years, as they would serve the 2-year sentence simultaneously with the 3-year sentence.

How Do Judges Decide Between Consecutive and Concurrent Sentencing?

Under federal law, sentences are typically imposed concurrently. However, this can be changed if certain factors come into play. Ultimately, the decision of whether to sentence a defendant consecutively or concurrently comes down to the judge.

Judges follow certain guidelines regarding how they decide these matters. Their decision may be influenced by whether the defendant committed multiple, separate crimes.

Aggravating factors may negatively affect a defendant's sentencing, resulting in a higher likelihood of serving consecutive sentences, including:

  • Abuse of power
  • Evidence that the crime was premeditated
  • Multiple victims or incidents
  • Non-cooperation with law enforcement and investigation
  • Previous convictions
  • Worse harm was intended

Is Consecutive or Concurrent Better?

If a judge orders a defendant to serve a concurrent sentence for multiple criminal charges, he or she will spend less time in prison. Alternatively, a consecutive sentence is seen as the harshest type of sentencing, requiring you to spend the total time for all your charges in prison.

What is an example of a Concurrent Sentence?

For related crimes (i.e. burglary and aggravated assault) that take place within the same event, a judge could impose a 10-year sentence and a 5-year sentence, but allow the confinement to be served concurrently. So instead of 15 years, the defendant would serve 10.

Why Do Judges Give Concurrent Sentences?

Judges impose concurrent sentences when the defendant is to serve multiple sentences, often for related crimes or crimes that took place at the same time. They will do this based on numerous factors, including:

  1. The nature of the crime
  2. History of the defendant
  3. Testimony from witnesses or lawyers
  4. State laws regarding maximum and minimum sentences
  5. The presence or absence of remorse on the defendant's part

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