Consecutive vs Concurrent Sentences – What’s The Difference?

A lot of legal jargon tends to sound very similar, leading to confusion when either those on trial or those reading about the trial hear or see these legal terms in print. Take consecutive and concurrent, for example. These two words are very close in meaning, which is confusing for anyone who isn’t a lawyer or a judge. To get a better understanding of what it means to serve consecutive or concurrent sentences, an explanation follows.

What Does Concurrent Mean?

To serve prison sentences concurrently means that you are serving two or more prison sentences simultaneously. In fact, a concurrent prison sentence is ideal from the standpoint that once you are done with the time required to serve one sentence, you have actually served all the time for all of your sentences. While it isn’t ideal to spend any time in prison, concurrent sentences are much more favorable than consecutive sentences.

The concurrently definition clearly defines this situation as “existing, happening, or done at the same time.” When your lawyer discusses the possibility of concurrent sentences, argue first for your freedom and then for concurrent sentences to avoid the more negative and unpleasant consecutive sentences. It will be an easier pill to swallow, so to speak.

Concurrent vs Consecutive Sentences

As previously mentioned, concurrent means you are serving multiple sentences simultaneously. Consecutive sentences are much harsher as you have to serve multiple sentences one after the other. Even once you finish one sentence of “x” number of years, you still have to serve the remaining sentences the judge told you you had to serve.

For example, if you are sentenced to serve eleven years, fourteen years, eight years, and twenty-two years, you have to serve each of these sentences one right after the other when the judge orders consecutive sentences. IF there is a possibility of parole at some point, you may not have to serve the remaining sentences, but that is only if you manage to make parole. Most convictions involving consecutive sentences represent some of the most terrible or horrible crimes, which is why the judge chose consecutive sentences instead of concurrent sentencing.

The consecutive definition is “following continuously in unbroken or logical sequence”. Ergo, whatever order the judge chooses for your consecutive sentences is the order in which you have to serve them. It might be from least number of years to greatest, greatest number of years to least, or a mix of the two depending on which crimes the judge places the greatest importance. It is very difficult to get these sentences reduced too, so your lawyer will have to work doubly hard for an acquittal or a reduction in your sentence.

Exceptions That May Occur in Sentencing

Sometimes your lawyer can argue for concurrent sentencing even when it is atypical for a judge to hand down concurrent sentences for the crimes involved. These extraordinary circumstances often involve mental defect, an argument for cruel and unusual punishment, physical illness likely to result in death, advanced age (such that the convicted person can’t serve consecutive terms), or another acceptable and pressing reason that consecutive prison sentences would not be feasible.

It is very difficult to argue for these exceptions however. Even if a jury agrees, the judge may overturn such things or change the sentencing on a whim. Ultimately the sentencing is up to the judge, which is why lawyers cannot fully predict the outcome of a trial. A lawyer can only do his or her best to seek out the best possible sentence if it’s apparent that an acquittal is not possible.

For that, you definitely want concurrent sentencing, but it may only happen in a plea bargain if and when a plea bargain is offered by the district attorney’s office. Your lawyer has to poke around to see if such a bargaining chip is on the table, and even then there are a number of factors at play.