Can Judges “Stack” Sentences For Multiple Crimes Tried Together?
It is fairly common for prosecutors to charge a defendant with multiple criminal offenses arising from the same act or “episode.” Under Texas law, when the defendant is tried and convicted of multiple offenses in a single trial, the sentences must normally run concurrently. This rule also applied to situations where the defendant was charged with the “repeated commission of the same or similar crimes,” even if they did not occur at the same time.
In practical terms, what this means is that a judge cannot “stack” sentences for crimes that were tried together. Hypothetically speaking, if George was convicted together of two crimes that each carried a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison, the judge could not impose a stacked sentence of 4 years. Instead, the court could impose a maximum concurrent sentence of 2 years.
Court of Criminal Appeals: Five Thefts Tried Together Must Be Sentenced Concurrently
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) recently addressed a more unusual permutation of this scenario. In this case, Middleton v. State, a defendant was placed on deferred adjudication for one crime but then later tried together for that and a newer offense. Prosecutors argued the court should be allowed to stack sentences in this situation. The CCA disagreed.
To take a step back, let’s explain deferred adjudication. If a defendant pleads guilty or “no contest” to a criminal charge, the court may decline to enter an immediate guilty judgment but still place the defendant on probation. If the defendant successfully completes that probation, the court will dismiss the original charge, meaning it will not be recorded as a conviction. But if the defendant violates probation, the court can then move to adjudicate the defendant’s guilt and sentence them to prison according to the law.
What happened in this case was the defendant pleaded guilty to multiple theft offenses in 2015. The court placed the defendant on deferred adjudication. During his probation, the defendant committed two additional thefts. Prosecutors charged the defendant with these new crimes, and they were tried together with the deferred adjudication of the original three theft charges.
The defendant pleaded guilty to the new charges. The trial court elected to sentence the defendant to 2 years in prison on each of the five charges, which the court then stacked into a 10-year sentence. An intermediate Texas appeals court reversed that decision, holding the law prevented stacking under these facts. The prosecutors then appealed that decision to the CCA.
But the CCA agreed with the intermediate court’s reading of the law. First off, even the prosecution conceded that the defendant’s original three theft sentences must run concurrently, as must the two new theft sentences. The only dispute was whether the trial court was allowed to stack the old and the new sentences. Here, the CCA said that since all of the cases were disposed of “in a consolidated punishment hearing,” the rule against stacking sentences still applied.
Speak with a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
Even if you plan to plead guilty to a crime, an experienced Pearland drug crime attorney can help ensure your sentence is not excessive and conforms to the law. Contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, if you need to speak with a lawyer today.