Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, was recently charged and entered a plea in two different courts, in front of two different judges for a multitude of crimes. This case brought the issue of the difference between consecutive and concurrent sentences to the news.
While Manafort’s situation was in the federal courts, the basic concept of the two types of sentences work the same in Texas whether in State court or Federal court.
Terms We Will Use
Throughout this article we will use different terms to describe the same thing. The reason for this is because in the legal system, the prison and parole system, and in everyday use, different terms are used.
Offender, convicted, convicted person, person, inmate, and potential parolee all mean the same thing: someone who is confined to a government institution.
Consecutive sentences are also known as stacked sentences.
Concurrent sentences are also known as time “running CC”.
Day for day, flat time, real time, and actual time are all the same. This is the actual number of days a person spends in prison. Each day served in prison results in one day credit.
Good time, good conduct time, good behavior time, and work time are all situations where an offender could get multiple days credit for each day served.
Difference Between Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences
While probation may be an option under come of our scenarios, we won’t discuss that possibility since it is outside the scope of this article. We will only be discussing actual prison sentences and how those can affect parole.
Concurrent sentences mean more than one crime has been committed and more than one conviction has occurred. If the judge assesses the sentences to run concurrently then the sentences are all served at the same time. This means a person can be in jail or prison and every day they serve is a day served on each sentence.
Consecutive sentences, also known as “stacked” sentences, mean the time must be served on the first sentence before the second sentence begins to be served.
Hypotheticals to Explain Concurrent Versus Consecutive
When a person commits a single state crime in Texas the concepts involved in the sentencing are easy. The Texas Penal Code (TPC) specifies at what level of misdemeanor or felony that crime must be considered. Once the level of crime is determined, then the TPC also specifies the potential range of the sentence.
For instance, if the defendant is charged and convicted of burglary of a habitation in Texas under Section 30.02 of the TPC, then they have been found guilty of a Second Degree Felony. In Texas, a Second Degree Felony carries a possible sentence of 2 to 20 years in prison, and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
Let’s assume the person was then sentenced to ten years in prison and there was no 3g finding (see article at this link to read about 3g offenses and findings). Under this scenario, the convicted person would be eligible for parole when all of his flat time plus his “good time credit” equals 25% of the ten years, or at 2 ½ years.
The issue arises when the person is arrested for multiple crimes at different times. This can become a little confusing as well. If the person commits multiple burglaries on the same night, or even over a period of time, the court can consider it a “continuing legal enterprise” or a “continuing course of conduct”. If the judge or jury makes this finding, then all of the sentences for each of the crimes will run concurrently. Thus, when the offender becomes eligible for parole on the longest sentence, they are eligible for parole on all of them.
If, instead, the person commits a Burglary of a Habitation on one night intending to and does steal a stash of money. We already know that crime is a Second Degree Felony and it carries a possible sentence of 2 to 20 years in prison, and a fine not to exceed $10,000. Then, six months later, the offender is caught stealing a Chevrolet Corvette automobile, and the District Attorney charges the person with Theft of over $30,000, which makes the crime a a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000. Assume for our hypothetical the judge(s) or jury/juries decides these were two are unrelated crimes and sentences the offender to 10 years in prison for the Burglary of a Habitation and 5 years in prison for the Theft of the car. The defendant would serve the time required for the first ten year sentence before beginning the time for the five year sentence.
Parole on Concurrent (CC) Sentences
If a judge ordered the sentences to run concurrently, when the offender becomes eligible for parole on the ten year sentence, he would have already been eligible for parole on the 5 year sentence. Put another way, although he had been eligible for parole on the 5 year sentence when his flat time plus “good conduct credit” equaled 25% of the sentence, or 15 months on a 5 year charge, since he still has more time to serve on the 10 year sentence he would not have been released from prison. When his flat time plus good conduct time equals to 25% of the 10 years, or 30 months, he can then be released from prison on both charges, assuming his application for parole is approved.
Parole on Consecutive (aka Stacked) Sentences
The way the law works on consecutive sentences is considerably more complicated, not only because the concept is difficult but also because the law was changed in 1987. It is unlikely anyone convicted in that time period is still looking at parole issues but it is possible so we’ll discuss that issue here.
First, the order in which someone is sentenced makes a difference. If there is a chance a person may receive a consecutive sentence, then it is better to be sentenced to a shorter sentence first. This is because, under any scenario, the time begins to run once the shorter sentence is either completed, or the parole on the shorter sentence is approved.
Parole on Consecutive Sentences Imposed before 1987
Assume we are using the previously discussed sentences (although the possible felony level and sentences for those crimes in 1987 were different), and if the sentence took place in 1987 or before then the offender must complete all of the time given on the first sentence before the time for parole on the second sentence could then be calculated. So, if the judge had instead ordered the 10 year sentence to be run consecutively with the 5 year sentence (the 10 years will be stacked on top of the 5 years) then the person serves the shorter sentence first, and then begins serving the longer sentence. They only become eligible for parole 2 ½ years after they completed their 5 year sentence since they can’t make parole on the 10 year sentence until 25% of it is served. By stacking the sentences the judge has, in effect, made the prisoner serve 7 ½ years (90 months) of a 15 year total sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Parole on Consecutive Sentences After 1987
In 1987 the law changed. After that date, the offender qualifies for parole, and can be approved, after 25% of the time (flat time plus good conduct time) on the first sentence is earned. If the parole is approved, the prisoner doesn’t actually leave prison, they are just considered to begin accumulating time on their second sentence when parole is granted on the first. So, if the first sentence is 5 years, they are eligible for parole after serving 15 months. If parole is granted, then they remain in prison and begin accumulating time toward the 10 year sentence. They would then become eligible for parole, and actual release from prison, after they have served 2 ½ year (or 30 months) after the date on which they were granted parole on the 5 year sentence. So, if convicted after 1987 and using the numbers we’ve been using the prisoner would be eligible to walk out of prison on parole after serving a total of 45 months of a 15 year sentence, which you may notice is half of the time if the person had been convicted and sentenced pre-1987.
The concept of consecutive versus concurrent sentences is easy. Concurrent means all sentences run at the same time where as consecutive means when one sentence finishes, the next begins. It only becomes complicated when trying to calculate parole eligibility dates and even that isn’t terribly difficult since the 1987 changes in the law. Just remember, when actual time plus good conduct time equals 25% of the sentence, the person is eligible for parole. On concurrent sentences, if approved at the 25% time of the longest sentence the person will leave prison. On a consecutive sentence, an approval at the 25% time means the person begins working toward the 25% on their next sentence.