By: Passalacqua & Associates

Can Past Convictions Be Used Against You in a New Criminal Case?

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Have You Been Charged With a Crime After a Previous Conviction?

If you are charged with a crime in the State of New York, and you have a previous criminal conviction, you are going to need the advice and services of a Syracuse criminal defense attorney, and you will need to get in touch with that attorney as quickly as possible.

In this state, the outcome of a criminal case may be affected in several ways if you have one or more previous convictions. Your criminal record may determine what plea deals are offered by the state, and it may affect a judge’s decision about your sentence if you are convicted at trial.

When Are Prosecutors Barred From Telling Juries About Previous Convictions?

However, in a New York criminal trial, a prosecutor cannot introduce a defendant’s previous criminal conviction(s) into evidence merely in order to demonstrate to a jury that the defendant has a propensity to commit crimes.

In other words, a prosecutor can’t tell or imply to the jury that because you have committed crimes in the past, you must be guilty this time as well. A prior conviction may be introduced during a criminal trial only if the conviction is pertinent to a specific issue in the proceeding.

When May a Prosecutor Tell a Jury About a Previous Conviction?

When is a prior conviction pertinent to a specific issue in a criminal case? Let’s say, for example, that you were convicted of committing an assault, and after you served your sentence, you decided to stalk the person you assaulted.

If you are prosecuted for stalking, your assault conviction will be admissible at trial because it was your motive for stalking your victim. A prosecutor may also bring previous convictions to a jury’s attention in order to demonstrate your modus operandi to the jurors.

For example, if you are tried for committing an armed robbery while you were wearing a Donald Duck mask, and you have previous convictions for armed robberies where you wore a Donald Duck mask, the prosecutor may try to introduce those previous convictions as evidence against you.

How Do Previous Convictions Affect Your Testimony?

If you choose to testify on your own behalf at a criminal trial, a New York prosecutor may be allowed to use your previous convictions to persuade the jurors that you should not be believed because you have already demonstrated a disregard for the truth.

Typically, however, a prosecutor cannot bring up a conviction that is more than ten years old. Additionally, the court may allow a prosecutor to mention only those convictions that are related to the issue of your trustworthiness or honesty.

For example, a judge in a criminal case may allow a prosecutor to mention a previous conviction for theft or fraud – crimes of dishonesty – but that same judge may bar the prosecutor from bringing up previous convictions for crimes like assault or driving while intoxicated.

How Do Previous Convictions Affect Plea Bargaining?

Prosecutors in New York are typically more lenient to defendants who have never been in legal trouble before. For example, a misdemeanor theft that is a first offense may be penalized upon conviction with only a few hours of community service and/or an order to pay restitution.

However, if you have a previous criminal conviction, your chances of getting a “good deal” from a prosecutor are diminished, and if you have multiple previous convictions, you may not be offered any type of plea deal or leniency.

If you receive a plea bargain offer from a New York prosecutor, consider it seriously, and discuss that offer with your Syracuse criminal defense lawyer before you accept or reject it.

How Do Previous Convictions Affect Sentencing?

In some cases, the law in New York removes a judge’s discretion and requires harsher sentences for defendants with prior convictions. Mandatory minimum sentences are also sometimes required for defendants who have previous convictions.

For example, if you are facing a felony charge, and you have received a felony conviction within the past ten years, you are classified under the law as a “predicate felon,” and a judge will not have the discretion to sentence you as if you were a first-time offender.

Additionally, offenses such as DWI (driving while intoxicated) entail incrementally harsher sentences with each conviction. In New York, for example, a second DWI offense within ten years of a first, misdemeanor DWI conviction is automatically charged as a felony.

When Should You Contact a Defense Attorney?

If you are charged with a crime in or near the Syracuse or Utica areas, it is essential to contact the offices of a Syracuse criminal defense attorney at once. Your lawyer will review the evidence, determine what actually happened, and bring your case to its best possible outcome.

In most criminal cases, a defense attorney will seek to have the prosecution drop the charge or will file a motion to dismiss the case. But if the evidence of your guilt is persuasive, and if the prosecutor is willing, your lawyer may negotiate an acceptable plea deal.

However, if you are innocent, in most cases, you should insist on your right to a jury trial. At trial, your lawyer will cast doubt on the state’s case, tell the jury what actually took place, and ask the jury to find you not guilty.

Let Passalacqua & Associates Represent and Defend You

How can you locate a Syracuse criminal defense lawyer who will prioritize your case and fight effectively for the justice you need? The team at Passalacqua & Associates has more than thirty years of experience successfully defending those charged with crimes in New York State.

With offices in Rome, Utica, and Syracuse, Passalacqua & Associates will fight aggressively to ensure that you are treated fairly and justly by the court, whether you have previous convictions or you’re being charged with a crime for the first time.

If you are charged with any felony or misdemeanor – whether it’s a first offense or you have one or more prior convictions – promptly contact Passalacqua & Associates at 315-277-3548. Our legal team will provide you with a free and in-depth evaluation of your case with no obligation.