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What to Expect During Sentencing

Roth Legal, A Professional Law Corporation Nov. 7, 2023

Lawyer and judge speaking next to the criminal in handcuffsIf you've been charged with a crime and find yourself navigating the complexities of the criminal justice system, you're undoubtedly grappling with numerous questions and concerns. One significant aspect that often weighs on your mind is the matter of sentencing - specifically, what to anticipate based on the charges you're facing. While some elements of this process may remain shrouded in uncertainty, there's a wealth of information available to empower you with knowledge and prepare you for what lies ahead.  

If you're in the Modesto, California area, including Stockton, Manteca, Merced, and across the state, contact Roth Legal, A Professional Law Corporation, where you can consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can provide invaluable guidance during this challenging time. 

When Does Sentencing Occur?

The term "sentencing" typically refers to the judicial punishment issued to individuals who have been convicted of a crime. However, the timing of this sentencing can vary, contingent on the nature of your case. For instance, in cases involving misdemeanor charges, a judge may render your sentence as early as your initial hearing if you choose to plead guilty or no contest. These cases are generally more straightforward, often obviating the need for a full trial. 

Conversely, for more serious charges, especially felonies, sentencing may be deferred until the conclusion of your trial, after both the prosecution and defense have presented their cases, and the jury has deliberated and rendered a verdict. 

What Happens During Sentencing?

During the sentencing phase of a criminal case, several key events and considerations come into play: 

  1. Scheduling the Sentencing Hearing: After a defendant has been found guilty of a crime, whether by a jury or through a plea agreement, the court will schedule a separate sentencing hearing. This hearing is typically conducted at a later date, allowing time for the preparation of presentence reports and other necessary proceedings. 

  1. Presentence Reports: Prior to the sentencing hearing, both the prosecution and defense may prepare presentence reports. These reports provide information about the defendant, the nature of the offense, and other relevant factors. They help the judge make an informed decision about the appropriate sentence. 

  1. Victim Impact Statements: In some cases, the court may allow victims of the crime or their representatives to provide victim impact statements during the sentencing hearing. These statements can detail the emotional, physical, or financial impact the crime has had on the victim and their family. Victim impact statements can influence the judge's sentencing decision. 

  1. Defendant's Opportunity to Speak: In many jurisdictions, the defendant also has the opportunity to address the court during the sentencing hearing. The defendant can express remorse, take responsibility for their actions, and provide context or insights about their circumstances. While these statements may not change the verdict, they can potentially influence the judge's decision regarding the severity of the sentence. 

  1. Mitigating and Aggravating Factors: The judge considers various factors when determining the sentence. Mitigating factors may lead to a more lenient sentence, while aggravating factors can result in a more severe punishment. Mitigating factors might include the defendant's lack of a prior criminal record, expressions of remorse, or cooperation with authorities. Aggravating factors could involve the use of violence, a history of repeated offenses, or the impact on victims. 

  1. Judicial Discretion: In most cases, judges have some degree of discretion in determining the sentence. While they must adhere to sentencing guidelines and laws established by the jurisdiction, they can make decisions within the specified sentencing ranges, taking into account the information presented during the hearing. 

  1. Sentence Pronouncement: Once all the relevant information has been considered, the judge pronounces the sentence. This typically includes the type of punishment (e.g., imprisonment, probation, fines), its duration, and any additional conditions or requirements, such as restitution to the victim or participation in rehabilitation programs. 

It's important to note that the sentencing process can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the case. It’s essential you get the support of a criminal defense attorney to make informed decisions throughout the process.  

How Is the Sentence Determined?

Another important question that comes up during this time is, “How is the sentence determined in criminal cases?” Each state gets to set its own rules on how a sentence is decided and California has its own sentencing guidelines it uses. This includes mandatory minimum sentencing for certain crimes as well as some enhanced sentences. However, within these guidelines, judges have leeway and can choose to be more or less lenient within the set standards. A judge will look at the circumstances of the crime and your past criminal history when considering your sentence. 

There’s also something called determinate sentencing for those with felony convictions. This basically means that the range of punishment the judge is working with is split up into three levels: low, mid, and high. For instance, a crime may come with a set punishment of either 12, 18, or 24 months in jail and a judge will evaluate the specifics of the case to see which of these three levels they choose. In some cases if there are mitigating or aggravating circumstances (ie. something that makes the crime less or more severe), a judge can deviate from these. 

Consult an Experienced Trial Attorney  

For individuals facing criminal charges in the Modesto, California area, it is advisable to seek the assistance of Roth Legal, A Professional Law Corporation. With a wealth of experience, Attorney Ryan Roth, a seasoned trial attorney, offers comprehensive, personalized legal support tailored to the unique needs of each client. Ryan stands ready to provide unwavering guidance and advocacy throughout the entire sentencing process.