Difference between Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences

By: | Updated: Nov-18, 2017

If you watch or read crime stories or the news, you have probably heard the terms “concurrent sentences” and “consecutive sentences.” How are they different? And what do these terms mean? If you have these questions, this article is for you.

Summary Table

Concurrent SentencesConsecutive Sentences
Multiple sentences that run simultaneouslyMultiple sentences that run successively
The defendant can serve more than one sentence at onceThe defendant serves one sentence before he or she can start serving the next one
Shortens the defendant’s jail timeMaximizes the defendant’s jail time

Definitions

different types of sentences

Concurrent sentences are multiple sentences that run simultaneously. This means that the defendant can serve two or more sentences at the same time. Concurrent sentences diminish the defendant’s jail time because the short sentences are also served while he or she is serving the longer ones.

For instance, Matthew is convicted of two criminal offenses. The first criminal offense requires 10 years of jail time and the second requires 3 years of jail time. If the court orders concurrent sentences, Matthew will serve both sentences at the same time. This means that instead of 13 years, he will be in jail for 10 years. During the first three years, Matthew will be serving two sentences (10 years and 3 years). After three years, he will be serving the remaining sentence (10 years).

Consecutive sentences are multiple sentences that run successively. This means that one sentence will have to be served by the defendant first before he or she can start serving the next one. Consecutive sentences maximize the convicted person’s jail time.

Let’s go back to Matthew’s case. If the court orders consecutive sentences, he will be in jail for a total of 13 years. He will have to serve 10 years of jail time first, and when that’s completed, he will then need to serve another 3 years of jail time.

Many factors (e.g. mitigating factors, aggravating factors, the severity of the crime, etc.) are taken into consideration upon deciding whether the sentences should be run concurrently or consecutively. However, sentences for severe crimes like murder are usually run consecutively. Consecutive sentences may also be ordered when the defendant commits another crime while serving another sentence, or is a habitual offender.

Concurrent vs Consecutive Sentences

What, then, is the difference between concurrent and consecutive sentences?

Concurrent sentences are sentences that are served at the same time. They somewhat shorten the defendant’s jail time because he or she is allowed to serve more than one sentence simultaneously. On the contrary, consecutive sentences are sentences that are served one after another. They maximize the jail time because one sentence has to be completed first before the defendant can start serving the next one.

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