In criminal law, a defendant is sometimes found guilty of two or more separate crimes during one trial. In some cases, a judge allows the defendant to serve jail time for all of these crimes at the same time. This phenomenon is known as a concurrent sentence.
For example, suppose that John Doe is tried and convicted of attempting to rob a convenience store. Assume that he is also found guilty of assault because he punched the store clerk during the attempted robbery. The judge may sentence him to three years in jail for the attempted robbery and two years for the assault. If the judge permits John to serve this jail time as a concurrent sentence, he would serve both sentences simultaneously. This means that John would spend a total of three years in jail for both crimes.
Concurrent sentences are distinct from consecutive sentences. Like a concurrent sentence, a consecutive sentence can be issued when a defendant has committed multiple crimes. With a consecutive sentence, however, a defendant serves time for each crime. Once a defendant completes the required amount of time for the first criminal charge, he or she then serves time for the second crime.
Suppose that in the John Doe example above, for instance, the judge had ordered a consecutive sentence for the attempted robbery and the assault convictions. John would be required to serve three years for the attempted robbery and then an additional two years for the assault. In other words, John would spend a total of five years in jail with a consecutive sentence as opposed to three years in jail with a concurrent sentence.
In some jurisdictions, judges have discretion to decide whether to issue consecutive and concurrent sentences. In other jurisdictions, statutes specify whether or not a particular crime can be served consecutively or concurrently with another crime. In cases where a judge has discretion, the judge often evaluates a number of factors in determining whether concurrent sentencing is appropriate. For instance, the judge may examine the defendant’s past criminal history. A first time offender may be more likely to receive a concurrent sentence than a repeat offender.
A concurrent sentence may also be granted if a defendant has been cooperative during the trial proceedings. For instance, suppose that a defendant has been convicted of multiple charges relating to illegal drug possession. If the defendant voluntarily enrolls in a drug rehabilitation program prior to sentencing, the judge may be more likely to hand down a concurrent sentence. A judge may also decide to issue a concurrent sentence if the crimes that have been committed are similar in nature.