Prince William County Criminal Sentencing
Depending on the nature of your charge, Prince William County criminal sentencing could take time or be an expedited process. However, no matter the severity of your charge, you need to consider working with an attorney who holds your best interests at heart. As such, it is important that you work with legal counsel that could advocate for your interests in court. An attorney could help the judge or jury see that you are trying to take steps toward improving and, if necessary, refute the allegations brought by the state.
Sentencing after a Trial in Prince William County
In Prince William County, the way sentencing generally works is going to depend on which court an accused person is in. In the general district court or in the juvenile and domestic relations court, sentencing would happen immediately following the trial. It is almost always on the same day as soon as the trial is completed. The prosecutor would make an argument about sentencing and the factors that the judge should consider. The defense attorney would make similar arguments and the judge would render a sentence immediately.
However, this is different in the circuit court. In the circuit court, sentencing would depend on the seriousness of the charges and whether there is an agreement made between the prosecutor and the defendant. It is typical and very common for a hearing to be set specifically for a sentencing hearing so that both sides are able to present witnesses and more extensive arguments. Each judge in circuit court has several days set aside each month specifically for sentencing in which the only hearings they hear for the entire day are sentencing hearings.
Misdemeanor Cases and the Sentencing Process
For misdemeanor cases in circuit court, the Prince William County criminal sentencing process would typically be abbreviated. It is uncommon for the court to hold a full hearing on sentencing for a misdemeanor case. For most misdemeanors that go before the circuit court, there is not an agreement between the parties as to how sentencing would be done. The judge would determine sentencing immediately after a trial or immediately after accepting a plea.
There are exceptions, however, and the main exception would be when someone has a jury trial in their case. It is possible for the judge to go through sentencing, take the recommendation from the jury, and impose the sentence immediately. It is also possible to handle it in a way that is more similar to a felony trial, continue the sentencing to another day, and give the parties an opportunity to fully brief the court.
Sentencing for Felony Cases: Longevity and Severity
For felony cases, the sentencing process enables the defendant to be entitled to a presentencing report. That means in most felony cases there is a full hearing for a sentencing. In a typical felony case, after the court has found an individual guilty the court would continue the case for some period of time for sentencing. The defendant could ask for a full presentencing report and a prosecutor could ask for a presentencing report, but the extent of what is done depends on the needs in each particular case. In most cases, the probation office would prepare a full sentencing report.
They would meet with the client to discuss the client’s criminal history as well as their economic and social background, their upbringing, their family life, their education, their work-life, and other factors that may come into play and be important for the sentencing hearing.
After that report is completed, the minimum of what has to happen is that the defendant needs to go over that report with their attorney and be present in court for the sentencing hearing. The judge would ask if the attorney and client have gone over the presentencing report and if there are any items they have to add to the report or anything that needs to be changed from the report. They would have arguments on the sentencing. At that point, arguments could be presented.
A number of additional things could happen because the defendant has the right to present witnesses and to present evidence to the court. In most cases, the best approach to take may be to decide well in advance of a sentencing hearing what types of evidence and how much evidence the client and the attorney want to present. Sometimes it is favorable to have people take the stand and testify regarding somebody’s character or the facts of the case. Sometimes it is best to present the judge with letters of recommendation from an employer and not have anyone testify. In more serious cases, the prosecutor would want to have the victim of the case take the stand and testify. In all cases, the judge would ask whether either party wants to ask questions of the prosecutor who prepared the presentencing report.
In appropriate cases, a number of people could end up testifying at a sentencing hearing. In such a case, it is generally appropriate to supply the judge ahead of time with a brief on sentencing from the defense counsel. Defense counsel typically approaches sentencing as the most important hearing in the case and present most of the information about the defendant. To the defendant, it is the most important proceeding because they are finally able to present the information they have wanted to present throughout the case regarding their good character.
It is important to distill all the information that they want the judge to be able to consider, to know what that information is ahead of time, and to present it in the best way for the judge to be able to see the information that they think is most relevant before determining the outcome of the case. Prince William County criminal sentencing could be made smoother with an experienced attorney.
A Judge or Jury’s Role in Prince William County Sentencings
The sentencing decisions in Prince William County are made by the judges in circuit court. A judge could be restricted by what a jury decides to do in a sentencing case. When someone has a jury trial in Virginia, the jury, after determining guilt or innocence, is asked to make a recommendation on the sentence. That recommendation is not 100 percent binding on the circuit court judge, but the circuit court judge may not sentence someone to any more time than what the jury recommends. If one elects to have a jury trial in their case and the jury decides that there is enough evidence that they found the person guilty, they would present a sentencing argument to the jury and ask them to come back with the lowest possible recommendation. If the jury comes back with a recommendation of one year of jail time, the judge technically could reduce that and give the person less than one year, but the judge could not increase a jury’s recommendation. It is rare for a judge to decrease a jury’s recommendation, as well. Most judges in Prince William County would take a jury’s recommendation and impose that sentence, but the final decision in a sentencing is up to the judge in Prince William County, even in a case where a jury decided the case.
Reach out for Help from an Experienced Attorney
When you have to face charges, and no matter the degree of alleged wrong, it could be beneficial to have an attorney by your side during Prince William County criminal sentencing. Fortunately, not all cases have to end in jail time. An experienced lawyer could advocate for the steps you have taken since your arrest and help the court understand how you are trying to improve. Facing the courts alone or with a public defender could limit your ability to have the court see your positive qualities. Reach out to an attorney today.