NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 6th December 2023, 10:58 pm
How Prior Convictions Can Come Back to Haunt You in a New Criminal Case
If you have prior convictions on your record and face new criminal charges, you probably feel anxious wondering how your past could impact the outcome. I get it – we all make mistakes, especially when young. Still, in our legal system, judges and prosecutors can use priors against you in setting bail, weighing charges, and sentencing. It pays to understand how so you can get the fairest result possible.
What Exactly is a Prior Conviction
A prior conviction basically means you pled guilty or no contest in the past, or a court found you guilty of a crime. Common priors include misdemeanors like petty theft, DUI, simple assault, disorderly conduct, trespass, and possession of small amounts of drugs. Felony priors range from drug sales and gun charges to more serious stuff like robbery, sex offenses and violence.
Juvenile Records Count Too
It surprises most people that juvenile records for offenses committed under 18 can count as priors years later. If you’re an adult with a juvenile history of theft or violence for example, it may come back to get you.
How Far Back Do They Go
In New York State, the law doesn’t limit how far back priors can be used. A petty theft conviction from age 19 could influence the outcome of a case 30 years later. The exception is sealed records from juvenile court, which prosecutors normally can’t access.
It All Depends What You’re Charged With Now
If arrested again, the type of charges you currently face, along with your criminal history, determine the impact. In general, the more serious the new accusation and your record, the harsher the consequences.
Prior Convictions and Bail
Many factors decide bail when arrested – public safety risk, flight risk, offense charged, criminal record, prior missed court dates, probation status, etc. Prosecutors often cite past convictions in arguing for high bail or no release at all pretrial. They’ll claim your record proves you are dangerous and likely to flee. Defense lawyers counter that bail should depend on the current charge more than old offenses. Still, judges lean conservative, so priors mean higher bail.
Prior Felonies Really Hurt
If arrested for another felony with a prior felony record, prosecutors can file special “predicate felony” charges alleging you are a repeat offender. This automatically bumps possible sentences way up. Two prior felonies trigger very extreme sentencing as a “persistent violent felony offender.” The minimum can be life behind bars for a minor third felony.
Even Misdemeanors Matter
While felonies count most, prosecutors and judges often view misdemeanors negatively too. Someone with multiple petty theft convictions accused of another faces elevated charges as a “persistent misdemeanor offender.” The more priors you have, even for small stuff, the harsher the new outcome may be.
Your Record Sets the Tone
From early bail arguments through final sentencing, prosecutors decide how to handle a case based partly on criminal history. If you have a clean or minor record, they often show more mercy in charging and punishment. If your rap sheet is longer or involves violence, they take a tougher stance. Simply put, the worse your past, the harsher the new case goes.
It Can Limit Plea Bargaining
Over 90% of convictions result from plea deals, not trials. If arrested for something like an assault, prosecutors often let first timers plead to a lesser count to avoid huge legal costs. But if you have priors for violence, they drive a harder bargain, maybe refusing any reduced charges. Past convictions cost leverage in negotiating pleas.
If you’re on parole or probation and get arrested for another offense, it triggers major consequences too. You face new charges plus almost certain parole/probation violation proceedings seeking reimprisonment. So new accusations inflate penalties when on conditional release.
Prior Convictions Limit Defenses Too
Certain defenses that work for first-timers like arguing actions were accidental or self-defense often fail for those with a record. Prosecutors say “he knew better given his past” to defeat such claims. Past crimes may also be raised to attack your credibility if you testify.
There Are Still Defenses – Don’t Lose Hope!
While grim, having priors doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be convicted or get the maximum sentence if facing new charges. Skilled lawyers know how to overcome the impact and still win dismissals, acquittals or leniency. Common methods include:
- Fighting to exclude prejudicial priors evidence from court
- Arguing priors are too old or different in nature from current case
- Making prosecutors prove latest case despite priors
- Presenting mitigating circumstances showing unfairness of max punishment
- Highlighting rehabilitation efforts since past crimes
Get a Lawyer Fast!
If arrested or questioned by police over any criminal accusation with a prior record, the stakes are high, so don’t delay getting an attorney. Never talk to police without counsel. Smart defense strategy starting day one offers the best hope of overcoming how past convictions haunt you.
While scary, even serious priors don’t make a new conviction certain or maximum sentence inevitable. But you do need to fight much harder for fairness. So get a lawyer now rather than hoping your record won’t hurt you – it often does unless strongly contested.
I know it’s human nature to regret past mistakes when facing new charges. Especially for old offenses committed as a troubled teen. But despite the anxiety, there are still ways to get justice. So take a deep breath and focus on working with your lawyer to mitigate the impact of priors. You still hold power over the outcome