For someone who has never undergone the sentencing process in Manassas, Virginia, the experience could be overwhelming. However, because there are potentially very serious ramifications that come attached with a criminal charge or conviction, it is pertinent to know what you will be facing. Below, a Manassas criminal lawyer provides some information about how the sentencing process works, including who makes final decisions and some potential aggravating factors to one’s case. To learn more about sentencing, call and schedule a consultation with an attorney today.
There are a number of ways that sentencing can happen, depending on which court you are in and the posture of the case. In cases where there is a plea agreement, and this includes misdemeanors as well as felonies, the agreement will be brought before the judge and the judge will pronounce the agreed-upon sentence previously worked out by the prosecutor, the defendant, and the defendant’s counsel. In misdemeanor cases where there is a trial, the judge will first determine guilt or innocence, and then if the individual is guilty there will be argument and evidence on sentencing, and then a judge will make a decision about what the penalty should be.
Felony cases in Circuit Court are somewhat different. If an individual is found guilty after a trial in Circuit Court, the Circuit Court judge is required to review the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines before pronouncing sentence. In most cases, subsequent to trial the matter will be continued for the probation office to prepare sentencing guidelines and for the Commonwealth and defendant to prepare to argue what the sentence should be under the guidelines. The guidelines will produce a range of penalties with a low number, a high number and a midpoint for incarceration.
On the other hand, if a person is tried by a jury on a felony case, the jury not only determines guilt or innocence but they also determine the punishment. They are not required, as a judge is, to review or to follow Virginia Sentencing Guidelines. This means that a jury can sentence an individual to any amount of incarceration, fine, or another penalty that is authorized by the statute, including the maximum penalty if that is what they decide to do, without regard to sentencing guidelines or what is typically done in such cases.
In misdemeanor cases, the judge always makes the decision on sentencing in Manassas. In felony cases, if it is a case that is tried before a judge then the judge will make the decision after reviewing the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines. If it is a felony case the jury will make a determination about sentencing.
There are any number of aggravating factors that can impact sentencing in a negative way. Some of the most common include crimes where the safety of individuals and particularly children is placed at risk. Another aggravating factor is if the defendant is not remorseful or sorry about what they have done. Alcohol, drugs, and weapons are also aggravating factors.
It is not always easy to know in advance what particular thing will offend a judge or a jury and be an aggravating factor, but an experienced lawyer will have a good handle on the most common aggravating factors and how to avoid them.
There are a number of factors that can mitigate a case in a positive way. Some of these include the age of the defendant and any proactive steps taken before trial to show the defendant is sorry or trying to make amends, such as performing community service or receiving treatment in certain cases. In addition, individuals cooperating with police sometimes can be a mitigating factor. Defendants should always consult with their counsel before attempting these kinds of mitigation, however, as only an experienced attorney will know which ones are likely to work and which ones may be counterproductive.
During the sentencing phase of the case, it is the job of the attorney to show the judge or jury the complete picture of the defendant and not just the short period during the crime. An attorney can assist by bringing to light the individual’s good accomplishments. Their background, any contributions that they have made to the community, any disabilities they might have or disadvantages they might suffer from which might make them more sympathetic or help to explain why they did what they did are relevant to sentencing. It is the lawyer’s job to put the defendant’s best foot forward and assist them in having the least impact possible, once they have been convicted of a crime.
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