How Does A Prior Arrest Or Conviction Impact A Criminal Case?
Let’s talk about convictions first.
Generally, there are three ways prior convictions can be used against you.
The first way is through something called “impeachment.” Impeachment means that, if you testify at your trial, the prosecutor can bring up some types of past convictions to suggest to the jury that you are a liar. The kinds of convictions that can be used for impeachment fall into two categories: felonies and misdemeanor “crimes of moral turpitude.” In both cases, the convictions generally have to be less than ten years old.
Most misdemeanors are not crimes of moral turpitude. For example, DWIs, possession of marijuana, and driving with a suspended license are not crimes of moral turpitude. Theft, prostitution, and certain types of assault on a family member are crimes of moral turpitude. Unfortunately, there’s no easy test for you to tell yourself whether your misdemeanor counts or not; you’ll just have to ask your lawyer.
The second way a prior conviction can be used against you is through “enhancement.” That means that your prior conviction is used to increase your potential sentence.
For example, your first two DWIs convictions may be misdemeanors, but if you get a third DWI, those two prior convictions can be used to enhance your charge to a felony. Your first assault on a family member conviction may be a misdemeanor, but it can be used to enhance your second assault on a family member charge to a felony. Your first two theft convictions may have been misdemeanors, but they can be used to make your third theft charge a felony.
Even if you’re not charged with the same crime as your prior conviction, your prior conviction can still be used to enhance your punishment. Take a look at the following table:
|Current Charge||Enhanced With||Increases Punishment To|
|Class B misdemeanor||Class B misdemeanor or higher||Minimum of 30 days in jail|
|Class A misdemeanor||Class A misdemeanor or higher||Minimum of 90 days in jail|
|State jail felony||Two state jail felonies||Third-degree felony|
|State jail felony||Two third-degree felonies or higher||Second-degree felony|
|Third-degree felony||Third-degree felony or higher||Second-degree felony|
|Second-degree felony||Third-degree felony or higher||First-degree felony|
|First-degree felony||Third-degree felony or higher||15 years – life|
|Third-degree felony or higher||Two third-degree felonies or higher||25 years – life|
The third way a prior conviction can hurt you is as “punishment evidence.” A prosecutor can always use a prior conviction at the punishment stage of a trial to argue for a harsher sentence. The argument is always going to be that you shouldn’t deserve leniency because you have one or more prior convictions.
As for past arrests that didn’t result in a conviction, with a few exceptions, they can’t be used to impeach you at trial, enhance your punishment, or be used as punishment evidence.
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