A sentencing hearing can be stressful if you don’t know what to expect. Let’s get you prepared for a sentencing hearing, so you’ll be informed when it’s time.
What Is a Sentencing Hearing?
A sentencing hearing is where the court orders the guilty party’s penalty, such as a monetary fine, jail time, or a combination of both.
Sometimes, the sentence is the result of a pre-negotiated plea deal between the prosecution and defense. In this case, the sentencing hearing will move at a rapid pace. Other times, the sentencing will rest solely in the hands of the judge and could take longer, with each side laying out their arguments.
For most criminal offenses, the law establishes minimums and maximums for penalties, and the sentence must fall somewhere in between. Mitigating or aggravating circumstances will either increase or decrease the level of punishment received by the criminal defendant.
Sentencing Hearing Process
The sentencing hearing happens after a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty by a jury or judge. Typically, the probation department of the courthouse will have prepared a presentence report that presents a detailed analysis. This report will include information like the defendant’s criminal record, personal history, history of substance abuse, the likelihood of repeated crimes, and whether the defendant poses a danger to the community. The presentence report may also include a victim impact statement from interviews conducted with the victim or the victim’s family before the trial.
The sentencing hearing will typically open with the prosecution’s side, beginning with a statement by the prosecutor making a recommendation to the judge. The prosecutor will often seek the maximum punishment for the crime. However, in some instances, like plea deals, the prosecutor may seek a lesser sentence.
The prosecutor’s recommendations will come with supportive reasons, and these will usually reference evidence in the record from the defendant’s criminal trial. During the prosecution’s presentation, the victim or the victim’s family may tell the judge about the impact of the crime, the pain the defendant has caused, and any other details that argue for a harsh sentence.
After the prosecution speaks, it is next the defense team’s turn to present arguments and evidence as to why the sentence should be less severe. In contrast with the aggravating circumstances the prosecution argued, the defense will present mitigating circumstances like a lack of criminal record or a defendant’s positive contributions. They may also include letters of support from family members, employers, community leaders, or similar individuals casting the defendant in the most favorable light. Finally, after the defense counsel addresses the court, the defendant may choose to speak – this is a fundamental right of allocution afforded to the defendant.
After hearing from the prosecution and the defense, the judge will consider all testimony before rendering a sentencing determination. Ultimately, the judge’s criminal sentence may include incarceration, fines, community service, or probation. All punishment decisions are solely in the hands of the judge at this stage of the criminal trial.
What to Expect on Sentencing Day
As explained, the sentence rests solely with the judge – juries determine innocence or guilt, but never a sentence. After the judge reviews the presentence report and hears from the attorneys, victim or victim’s family, and the defendant, the judge imposes a sentence within limits set by law.
In addition, the judge will often read factors for consideration under an applicable statute or case law. The entire sentence hearing process could range from several minutes to several hours, but on average happens within a single day.
Partnering with the Right Attorney for Superior Case Outcomes
When you are accused of a crime, you will need Texas lawyers who possess the right knowledge and resources to help your defense. For the best criminal defense attorneys near you, contact attorney Seth Kretzer today.