As a former prosecutor, I would like to give you an insider's perspective on how your prior criminal record impacts the way your open criminal case is treated.
First and foremost, what are you charged with? If you are charged with a violent crime and you have a prior criminal record, prosecutors will see if you qualify for any sentencing enhancements. Designations such as Habitual Felony Offender, Habitual Violent Offender, and Prison Releasee Re-Offender can be imposed upon defendants with qualifying prior offenses.
If you qualify for sentencing enhancements due to your prior criminal record, you will face longer prison sentences and in some cases, mandatory prison time.
Even if your priors do not qualify for enhancements, prosecutors will look to see if your criminal history indicates a pattern of escalating violence.
In other words, if you have priors for burglary and are now charged with robbery, prosecutors will deduce that you are getting bolder and more violent in your criminal endeavors. Whereas burglary is essentially a property crime, robbery involves the use of force or violence to obtain property from an individual. Obviously a step up from burglary.
If the prosecutor believes that you are becoming a more violent offender, expect stiffer penalties, or least a lack of mercy. Prosecutors are less likely to offer a "below guidelines" plea if your current offense is more serious than your previous offenses.
If you are charged with a drug possession crime, prosecutors will look to see if you have drug-related priors. If this is an indication of a drug problem, the prosecutor may be looking to put you on drug offender probation, or offer some type of plea that would entail drug treatment.
Being a first-time offender is always better than having priors, but if you do have priors, understand that the criminal justice system may not be so willing to give you a second chance.
A prior criminal history may mean a higher bond, higher sentencing guidelines, and a greater chance of state prison as opposed to probation.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney representing clients in Miami-Dade and Broward.