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Consecutive Sentencing in California

REPORT: Consecutive Sentencing in California PDF

PRESS RELEASE: New Research Shows How Consecutive Sentencing is Applied to California Criminal Sentences

Criminal sentencing in California allows longer sentences for people convicted of more than one offense through the use of consecutive sentencing. Consecutive sentences require that the person sentenced serve a prison term equal to the sum of the sentences imposed for each offense (less any credits earned). The alternative to consecutive sentences is concurrent sentences, where individual sentences are served simultaneously, and the offense with the longest prison term (the controlling offense) determines the sentence. This report analyzes the application of consecutive sentencing in California, examining the sentences of people admitted to prison since 2015, as well as the population incarcerated as of March 2023.

The report is part of a series focused on sentencing practices in the state. Past reports in this series analyze how the state’s Three Strikes law and the broader set of sentencing enhancements affect prison sentences in the state. CPL conducted this study through a research partnership with the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code, a state agency that studies and makes recommendations to improve California’s criminal legal system.

Key Research Findings

1. In total, consecutive sentences are applied to less than a quarter (22%) of prison admissions in California since 2015.

2. Among cases with multiple conviction offenses, consecutive sentences are more likely to be applied when criminal cases involve offenses that occurred in multiple counties, the offenses are serious or violent, the most serious offense is a crime against a person, or the individual has prior prison admissions for serious or violent crimes.

3. People who are admitted with second and third-strike enhancements are much more likely to receive consecutive sentences (18 and 12 percentage points more likely, respectively) relative to admissions with multiple convictions without these enhancements.

4. While consecutive sentencing appears to be applied at a higher rate for American Indian/Alaskan Native individuals and White individuals, much of this can be attributed to a relative concentration of admissions for these individuals in counties that tend to apply consecutive sentencing more frequently. The opposite is also true for admissions of Black, Hispanic, Asian, and people in the “other race” category, as these admissions tend to be coming from counties that apply consecutive sentencing more sparingly.

Suggested citation: Gill, O., Bird, M., Lacoe, J., Pickard, M., Raphael, S., Skog, A. (2024). Consecutive Sentencing in California. California Policy Lab.

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