What is a habitual offender?

cuffs and mallet

One of the worst things that a person can find on their indictment is a habitual enhancement. This means that they are looking at significantly more jail time depending on the type of enhancement. Mississippi has two habitual enhancements: § 99-19-81 and § 99-19-83. Typically, lawyers refer to each one as either an 81-habitual or an 83-habitual enhancement.

81-habitual enhancements are the more preferable of the two. Section 99-19-81 explains that a person qualified for an 81-habitual enhancement means that they have already been convicted of two previous felonies from two separate incidents, and each prior sentence included at least one year or more in state or federal prison. If a person is an 81-habitual offender, and plead guilty or are found guilty, then they must be sentenced to the maximum amount of time for the underlying crime. To make it worse, such a sentence is considered day-for-day, and cannot be reduced or suspended, nor can the person be eligible for parole or probation. In 81-habitual cases, the only way to avoid the enhancement, aside from taking it to trial and being found not guilty, is to negotiate with the prosecutor to remove the enhancement in exchange for a plea or to convince the court as to why the person should not face the maximum term of imprisonment.

83-habitual enhancements are definitely the worse of the two. For an 83-habitual enhancement to apply, a person has to have already been convicted of two prior felony crimes, just like with an 81 enhancement, but at least one of the crimes has to be considered a crime of violence. To make it even worse, if a person is found guilty with the 83-habitual enhancement, then the person must be sentenced to life imprisonment and their sentence cannot be reduced nor suspended. This applies regardless of the type of underlying felony. In addition, unlike 81-habitual enhancements, a judge has ZERO discretion to reduce the sentence. The only way to avoid this enhancement is to either take the case to trial or negotiate with the prosecutor to drop the enhancement.

As you can imagine, both of these enhancements are incredibly serious. Often times, prosecutors try to bully defendants with the enhancements, but you should always be sure to talk with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to discuss the ins and outs of your case. The important thing to remember is that even though a case may have an enhancement, it is still like any other case. A lawyer should still work the case, determine how much difficulty the prosecutor will have with trying to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and only after very careful review of the entire case, then make a decision as to whether there should be negotiations to drop the enhancement.