When the Deck is Stacked Against You
When you are being prosecuted for a crime, many factors can influence your case. The facts and circumstances of your offense can influence how the prosecuting attorney files the charge. And many additional factors can influence how the judge sentences you.
Among the most important of these numerous factors that can affect a criminal case is the defendant's prior criminal history. Having prior convictions—or even arrests—could potentially influence the outcome of the case.
How Will a Prior Affect My Case?
A prior criminal conviction can result in a harsher sentence. Some crimes come with mandatory sentences, meaning every defendant receives the same sentence. Others come with minimum and maximum sentences as stated in the statute. In these cases, the judge will look at the defendant's prior criminal history and any mitigating or aggravating factors before deciding where in that range the sentence should be.
For some cases, a prior criminal conviction will mean an automatic longer sentence. In others, the judge can consider the prior offense but doesn't necessarily have to issue a harsher sentence because of it. Now that you know a prior conviction can affect your current case, let's take a look at what you can do to reduce the chance it will result in a harsher sentence.
How to Mitigate the Effect of Your Prior
One of the factors the judge could consider when sentencing you is whether it appears you've been rehabilitated from your criminal past. A sentence is a punishment meant to rehabilitate the defendant. Typically, sentences will reflect the severity and nature of the crime. For example, part of your sentence for a domestic violence conviction could be payments to a battered women's shelter. And all DUI defendants will have to attend DUI school if convicted. If the judge thinks the sentence for your first conviction didn't rehabilitate you, he or she will ensure your current sentence will. You might be given the maximum sentence for your crime.
To mitigate the effect a prior conviction will have on your sentence, you will need to demonstrate that you have been rehabilitated from your criminal ways. Show the progress you've made since that conviction. Did you complete your probation? Find gainful employment? Act as an outstanding citizen?
Another way to mitigate the effect of a prior conviction is to file a motion to strike that offense. Have an attorney help you do this. If the judge grants the motion, your prior conviction cannot be considered in your current case. Again, this will take demonstrating your rehabilitation. But in many cases, this single motion can save defendants from maximum sentences. Work with an attorney if you want to file a motion to strike. An attorney will advise you on whether or not such a motion would be helpful in your case and how it could affect your sentencing.
It's also important to keep in mind the nature of the prior conviction. If you've been convicted of a DUI, for example, in the last seven years, a second conviction could mean a harsher sentence. If your prior is for something unrelated, it might not affect your sentence, but it won't cast you in a positive light, either. Prior convictions can be especially harmful in domestic violence cases as these tend to be more aggressively prosecuted in California.
Facing criminal charges is stressful, even more so if you've been convicted of a crime in the past. A prior conviction can potentially be held against you, so you might benefit from the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable California criminal defense attorney can advise you on how your prior conviction can affect your sentencing and can argue in court that your prior conviction should not be held against you in your current case. You cannot erase your prior criminal conviction, but an attorney can help you mitigate the effects it has on your case.
If you are facing criminal charges, contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for help in Tulare, Fresno, or Kings County. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can explain your charges and help you fight them step by step. Attorney Martens has over ten years experience in criminal defense and won't be afraid to take your case all the way to trial. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.