How Can Prior Convictions Affect A Texas Criminal Case?
A criminal conviction on a person’s record has a number of consequences, not least of which include issues applying for jobs, housing, and other matters. A prior conviction can also rear its ugly head when a person finds themselves in legal trouble once again. Prosecutors can use a prior offense at trial or at sentencing to escalate the charge and potential sentence a defendant faces.
The impact of a prior offense depends on the nature of that offense and its relation to the new charge. If the original charge was a completely unrelated misdemeanor, its effect may be minimal or none at all. If there is a connection – such as prior conviction for DWI or Domestic Violence when charged again – this can spell trouble for a defendant in Texas criminal courts.
Can Evidence of Past Convictions be Used at Trial in Texas?
At trial, whether to allow evidence of a prior conviction at trial involves a “balancing test” in many cases: will the conviction’s value in helping a jury evaluate the defendant’s truthfulness be outweighed by its potential to prejudice the jury against the defendant? The use of prior convictions to try and convince a jury that a defendant has a “propensity” to commit the crime in question is usually disfavored by courts.
Courts will generally consider some of the following factors as part of this balancing test:
- How long ago the prior conviction was (crimes more than 10 years old are generally barred from use at trial);
- The age and mental state of the defendant at the time the previous crime was committed;
- Whether the defendant’s credibility is at issue;
- The defendant’s actions and behavior since the prior conviction.
Under Rule 609 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, some prior convictions may come into evidence regardless. If the crime was a felony or crime of “moral turpitude”, it can be introduced to the jury. Additionally, if the defendant introduces the issue themselves (for example, by saying they’ve never committed any crimes before, that opens the door for prosecutors to use the past conviction).
Can Evidence of Past Convictions be Used at Sentencing in Texas?
In addition to their potential use during trial against a defendant, prior convictions can have a substantial impact at sentencing. The Texas Penal Code provides for enhanced penalties against repeat or habitual offenders in criminal cases. This means a misdemeanor can be upgraded to a state jail felony, for example. Or a third degree felony can be upgraded to a second degree felony, and so forth.
Prior convictions at the sentencing stage, under certain circumstances, can lead to additional jail time and fines for those convicted of a new charge. Defense attorneys can make efforts to mitigate against the impact of a past offense, or argue that it should be given less weight at the sentencing phase.
If you have any kind of criminal conviction history and face a new charge, it is critical to consult with a skilled Texas criminal defense attorney to discuss the impacts your prior convictions have, and what your options may be at the plea bargaining stage, trial, or sentencing. An experienced attorney will know more about the enhancement provisions and other factors that can impact your case.
Our Pearland, Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Will Review Your Situation and Impact of a Prior Conviction on Your Current Case
A prior criminal conviction can impact a new criminal case, but can sometimes be minimized or mitigated by other factors. Each case is unique, and those with criminal histories should take great care to make sure they aren’t being treated unfairly simply because of something on their record from years past. At Keith B. French Law, our Pearland criminal lawyers have helped many others face the challenges that come when past convictions become an issue. Contact us today for a consultation.