Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib

The Impact of Prior Convictions on Future Criminal Charges


Being convicted of a crime is never the preferred outcome if you have been charged. Most convicted people focus on the immediate consequences, such as financial penalties or prison sentences. However, a conviction can impact your life long after your sentence is over, and any fines are paid. 

One of the most damaging long-term consequences of a criminal conviction is the possible effect on any future crimes with which you are charged. A criminal record can significantly affect the penalties you face for subsequent convictions, even if it has been decades or the crime is entirely unrelated. Keep reading to learn how your record could impact future charges, convictions, and penalties.

How a Criminal Record Affects Your Rights

Whenever you are charged or convicted of a crime, the information is placed on your criminal record. Merely being accused of something does not impact your future rights if the charges are dropped or you are found not guilty. However, if your record shows you’ve been convicted of a crime, it will shape the rest of your life.

The specific consequences depend on the crime for which you’ve been convicted. Common examples of how your rights may be limited include:

  • Prohibitions on Firearm Ownership: If you have a felony record, you may not own firearms anywhere in the U.S. 
  • Limited Voting Rights: Convicted felons who are actively serving time for a felony may not vote in California. Many states prohibit felons from voting at any time after being found guilty.
  • Loss of Driving Privileges: Driving offenses may lose you the right to drive, temporarily or permanently. 
  • Loss of Child Custody: If you have a custody agreement in place, convictions for violent or drug-related crimes may be grounds to have your parental rights revoked.
  • Limits on Where You May Live or Work: Crimes that place you on the sex offender registry may prevent you from working or living in many locations. 

Previous Convictions’ Effects on Subsequent Charges 

Beyond your fundamental daily rights, a conviction will also impact how you interact with the legal system. In many cases, your criminal record can affect everything from the crime with which you are charged to the penalties if you are convicted. 

The most well-known of these impacts comes from California’s Three Strikes sentencing law. First enacted in 1994, the law initially applied to sentencing all people with prior felony convictions. According to the bill, anyone convicted of a felony who had been previously convicted of one felony hit their second “strike” and would be sentenced to twice the crime’s regular prison term. For example, felony vandalism is usually punishable by one year in prison, but if it was your second felony conviction, you could face a sentence of two years. 

A third-strike felony conviction, or one that occurs after you have been convicted for two prior felonies, originally led to a mandatory prison sentence of 25 years to life. This led to third convictions for crimes like felony vandalism landing people in prison for decades. However, the law has since been amended to specify that only convictions for “serious or violent” felonies qualify for the third strike. Other offenses, such as vandalism and forgery, remain charged at the level of the second strike, doubling the potential maximum sentence.

Beyond these penalties, law enforcement and prosecutors may also use your past convictions when charging you or arguing your guilt in court. For instance, past DUI convictions can lead to future drunk driving charges being treated as felonies, not misdemeanors. Similarly, in certain situations, prosecutors can use your prior convictions as character evidence during your trial, such as using an embezzlement conviction to argue that you are dishonest. 

How to Avoid Unfair Bias 

Your past mistakes shouldn’t haunt you forever. If you are concerned about previous convictions being used against you in a future criminal trial, you have options. Some of the most effective ways to protect yourself from unfair bias due to past convictions include:

  • Sealing your criminal record: If your record is sealed, your past felony convictions are no longer available to the public. They are still available to law enforcement and the legal system, but successfully petitioning to have your record sealed demonstrates that the court found you to have moved beyond your previous conviction. This does not impact the sentencing for future convictions, but it is character evidence in your favor if you are charged.
  • Expunging your record: If you have a crime expunged from your record, the case is recorded as “dismissed” and does not mention that you were convicted. An expungement essentially removes the conviction from your record entirely. This can mitigate future charges and sentences by avoiding the impact of the Third Strike law.
  • Filing a motion to exclude: If you have already been charged with a crime, you can file a motion to exclude your previous convictions from consideration during the trial. This prevents the prosecutor from using them unless they can provide a conclusive reason why the past conviction is relevant to the case.

Discuss Your Concerns With an Expert Redwood City Criminal Defense Lawyer

Whether you have already been charged with a crime or are concerned about future criminal charges, your best course of action is to discuss your case with a proven criminal defense and expungement attorney. At the Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib, we provide expert legal counsel to anyone with a criminal record. We can help you expunge or seal your past felony convictions or previous misdemeanors. We can also defend you in court, fighting to reduce charges and avoid unfair convictions and penalties. Schedule your consultation today to learn more about how our firm can help you clear your criminal record and defend your innocence.