It’s time for a criminal conviction: What happens at the sentencing hearing?

When a criminal case is presented to the court, it has to go through a trial to convict an offender. Oftentimes, the judge convicts an offender just after the trial ends. But sometimes the judge schedules another sentencing hearing to press charges and define the defendant’s fate. In a sentencing hearing, the judge, not the jury, decides what conviction a defendant should receive. If the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, they will become an offender and it becomes mandatory for a court to sentence the guilty.

What happens at a sentencing hearing?

In an event where a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty in a Crown court by the magistrate in the court, the court or the magistrate must conclude the case by pressing the sentence. In a sentencing hearing, all the aspects of the case, evidence, witness statements, and prosecution arguments will be assessed. With this, the court will be able to arrive at a proportionate sentence for the offender which is fair and according to conduct.

In addition,

  • The court will be informed about the offense of the defender and whether the defendant pleaded guilty
  • The prosecution will count the facts of the case, outline things that are serious and how these things make the case less or more serious, the impact of the offense on the victim(s), and inform the court about any prior criminal convictions of the offender
  • On the other hand, the defense attorney will make counter-arguments explaining the situations when the crime occurred and the defendant’s background, which is called mitigation
  • Attorneys from both sides will make statements referring to the sentencing guidelines and argue on the category where the offense lies.
  • If the magistrate finds its powers limited to cater to the seriousness of the offense, the magistrate may send the case to the Crown court.
  • The court will issue sentences adhering to the sentencing rules along with any sentencing guidelines as a reference to the Crown court.

Process of Sentencing hearing

The occurrence of the sentencing hearing depends on the guilty plea from the defendant or if the judge finds the defendant guilty. For a detailed analysis of the court, the probation department is responsible for the presentation presentence report. This detailed analysis report jots down the information about the defendant’s criminal history, personal records, history of convictions regarding substance abuse, the frequency of repeated crimes, and if the defendant is a threat to the community.

In addition, this presentence report will also include victims’ statements and the impact of the criminal activity on victims. Interviews and statements from the victims’ families will also be documented in the report before the trial.

Typically, a prosecution begins the sentencing hearing by making recommendations about the penalties and charges to decide in front of the judge. The prosecution will likely want to bring harsher and maximum penalties for the offender. Although, when there’s a plea deal, a prosecution may go for less intense convictions.

These recommendations are backed by strong evidence and the potential reasoning from the defendant’s records taken from his criminal trial. While the prosecution presents the recommendation, the victim and the victim’s family may want to bring the judge’s consideration towards the impact of the crime, the suffering that the family or the victim had borne and other details of the case in the exchange to have harsher penalties and sentences for the defendant. 

Once the prosecution and victim made their statements, now it is time for the defense attorney and defense team to present the argument against the prosecution and convince the judge for a lesser conviction. The prosecution is allowed to raise arguments while the defense is presenting its case. Here the defense team will provide circumstances and mention positive factors and aspects with mitigating options like the positive contribution of the defendant to the community or the lack of past criminal records.

These mitigation responses may include support letters from employers, family members, community leaders, or individuals with a significant impact on the community. Once the defense and prosecution attorneys are done making their statements, the defendant can use his right to speak to the court and make final statements.

Lastly, when both the attorneys, defendant and victim are done with making arguments and presenting evidence, before concluding the conviction, the judge will render testimonies from the trial.

Eventually, the judge may conclude the case by imposing fines, penalties, incarcerations, probation, or community service. However, every decision on punishments, fines, and sentencing is upon the judge’s discretion at any stage of the criminal trial.

What should you expect from the sentencing day?

The essence of the whole discussion above may have already predicted the idea of what to expect from a sentencing hearing. The judge sees the presentation report, hears the attorneys from both sides, arguments from the victim and victim’s family, and the offender. Once the process is completed, the judge will conclude his remarks by imposing a sentence adhering to the statutes of limitations under federal or civil laws.

If the case requires, the judge can read the factors he considered while sentencing the offender which is applicable under the statutes and laws. The process of sentencing hearings can range between some hours and a single day.

Generally, the law sets a penalty after a criminal execution i.e., ‘incarcerations’ for up to twenty years, and/or a possible fine of $10,000. If the defendant has no prior criminal convictions and has a positive support bank, then possibly the magistrate may lessen the penalties to up to five years of imprisonment and a $5000 fine. Depending on the severity of the crime and the associated damages, injuries, and the number of victims, the judge will impose the twenty-year imprisonment with the fines regardless if the defendant committed the crime for the first time.

Contacting a lawyer

The above discussion shows how important it is to have legal representation at your back. Whether you are a victim or a defendant, the role of the prosecution and the defense attorneys are viable when you need justice. This is why contacting a lawyer will be required to win a case in any situation.

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