When there is a plea bargain, sentencing hearings are often bypassed and a judge will often not ask for the preparation of a pre-sentence report. In other situations, when a pre-sentence report is requested and reviewed by the judge beforehand, the judge may be prepared to immediately render a sentence. However, some judges choose to delay their review of the pre-sentence report and set a future sentencing hearing, thus, in these cases the process takes longer.
Sentencing hearings offer the defense many opportunities as well. There are times when it is to our advantage to call witnesses to testify at a sentencing hearing who will present the client in a positive light and thus, impact the judge’s decision, hopefully toward a more lenient sentence. Ultimately, the judge will consider a pre-sentence report if it was requested, hear from all witnesses, consider any arguments put forth by the prosecution or defense and then impose the sentence.
How Long Is A Sentencing Hearing Typically?
There are multiple factors that can impact the length of a sentencing hearing; witnesses and arguments for example may cause delays. But in general, most sentencing hearings fall within the timeframe of approximately 30 minutes to several hours. It is possible for unforeseen circumstances to extend the sentencing hearing longer, sometimes a day or two or even a few days, but this is not generally the case.
What Will The Judge Consider When Deciding Upon An Appropriate Sentence?
Initially, a judge considers the punishment range. For example, if a case is a felony (third degree), the range of punishment is from 2 to 10 years of incarceration. The judge will consider mitigating and aggravating factors in regard to the specific case and will consider any precedents or trends statewide, though there may not be consistency between cases across the state. The federal system uses the United States Sentencing Guideline Manual for sentencing, which is designed to create equality in sentencing. However, even the federal system has inconsistencies in terms of sentencing.
Other considerations a judge may take into account are as follows: general facts of the case, if the individual is considered to be a good candidate for rehabilitation or probation, remorse and acceptance of responsibility of the individual, successful completion of any counseling or drug rehabilitation, whether any restitution has been paid, and ultimately, whether probation or a term of imprisonment is the best sentence.
Will Alleged Victim(s) Or Witnesses Speak At A Sentencing Hearing?
The prosecution and the defense are both allowed to call witnesses to testify during a sentencing hearing. Often written victim statements have been reviewed and considered previously during the presentation of the case or through a pre-sentence report. Sometimes during a sentencing hearing a victim will elect to make a statement to the court or to the accused for the purposes of sharing their experience of the crime or relate how the crime impacted them. Courts grant victims this opportunity.
Does A Defendant Have Any Personal Input In A Sentencing Hearing?
Clients always have input into their sentencing, which is done through our representation during the sentencing process. We have the experience and knowledge necessary to present all the relevant evidence and testimony in favor of our clients. Our mission at the sentencing hearing is to get the most favorable outcome for our clients.
What Needs To Be Known Prior To The Sentencing Hearing? What Can Be Done?
There are a litany of possible steps a client can take, or actions they can perform, to improve their chances of a better outcome at a sentencing hearing. First, hire us. We will always discuss these options with our clients. Some actions that may impact the final sentencing decision are: community service, restitution, reparations, general counseling, alcohol or drug counseling, AA or NA meetings, etc. All of these things are often considered by a judge at sentencing. Other factors often considered are is the individual being a productive member of society, caring for his or her family, having a job and living a clean law abiding life.
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