A person’s criminal history often impacts many areas of his or her life, and especially has the ability to negatively affect future criminal proceedings and sentencing against the person. A first-time offender does not often receive the same sentence as a person who has multiple prior convictions, and sentences for misdemeanors differ in severity from sentences for felonies. In considering how to proceed in a criminal case or whether to plead guilty, a defendant needs to understand the consequence of a felony conviction in future sentencing.

New York law has a predicate felony law, which means that a person who has a felony conviction is guaranteed prison time if convicted of another felony within ten years. For the prior conviction to count as a predicate felony for sentencing purposes, the conviction must have been for a felony in New York or an offense in another state that carries a term of imprisonment for over a year or a death sentence. These sentences do not have to have been imposed in the out-of-state conviction, but the offense has to have qualified for such sentences.

Predicate felony sentence enhancement is applied to a conviction for a Penal Law offense. The prior felonies considered for enhancing a current conviction under the Penal Law, however, do not have to be Penal Law offenses. If a person is convicted of a felony charge of driving while intoxicated (DWI), this felony can count as a predicate felony for future sentence enhancement. However, the person’s current conviction for DWI cannot have their sentence enhanced under this law, despite previous felony convictions. This is because a DWI is not an offense under New York’s Penal law.

For a prior conviction to count as a predicate felony, the sentence for the felony has to have been imposed before the sentence for the current felony. Therefore, crimes committed at the same time and charged simultaneously cannot count as predicate felonies for the other charged crimes if there have been not convictions and sentences imposed.

There are certain sentences and dispositions that are considered convictions and sentences for purposes of this law, even when an ordinary person may not necessarily think they would count as convictions. These include suspended sentences, probation and a conditional discharge. This is why it is important for a defendant who is offered a plea agreement to consider whether pleading guilty is the right move if charged with a felony. Sometimes, a plea deal may be in the defendant’s best interest, and this should be discussed with the defendant’s defense attorney. However, it is also important to explore all other options and consequences before taking a plea.

If you or someone you know has been accused of a state or federal crime, contact experienced Syracuse criminal defense attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation.