If you've been found guilty of a crime, you need to hire a skilled post-conviction sentence case lawyer to represent you at the crucial hearing that will establish the specific penalty you will receive. Working closely with a criminal defense attorney can give an accused person the chance to have their sentence reduced, even during the sentencing hearing. For representation throughout your sentence proceedings in Phoenix, get in touch with the Phoenix Criminal Attorney.
What is a Sentencing Hearing?
A sentencing hearing is a proceeding whereby the judge administers the punishments for a conviction. The sentencing hearing follows a pre-sentencing hearing, during which the court hears the evidence to help determine a suitable sentence.
At the pre-sentencing hearings, the judge listens to evidence that has been carefully crafted to address the potential penalties imposed on the defendant for perpetrating the crime. This concentrates on the factors accompanying the crime that are either mitigating or aggravating.
The prosecution team is going to provide proof of aggravating conditions and argue that these circumstances call for severe sentencing. The defense counsel in your criminal case will plead for leniency by pointing to any mitigating factors.
The court will conduct a sentencing hearing and deliver the judge's ruling following the presentation of the evidence during the pre-sentencing session.
The Sentencing Hearing Proceedings and What to Expect
Sentencing hearings are considered to be among the "essential stages" of the criminal prosecution process. To guarantee that justice has been served, judges should decide what sentencing to issue for each defendant who appears before them.
A court has to weigh the gravity of the most recent conviction as well as the defendant's previous criminal history before deciding on a sentence. Other additional factors can be considered. If there was a victim in the case, the court will take into account how the offense has impacted them. The court can also take into consideration the sentence recommendations made by either the prosecution or the defense.
During the sentencing hearing, the prosecutors often begin by defending the proposed penalty. The prosecution speaks for the state and proposes a penalty that serves to deter future criminal behavior and safeguard the general public.
The judge could take the prosecution's evidence into account if it sheds light on the accused's motives for committing the offense or determines the accused's future threat to the community. This could include the accused's background as well as the frequency and degree of any previous criminal charges. The judge could also take into account any additional factors, for example, the defendant's financial or mental health, that might have contributed to the defendant's criminal actions.
Judges have been given wide discretion to consider a wide range of factors, including information that was excluded from a defendant's criminal trial. After the prosecutor's proposal for sentencing, your defense could make an alternative proposal. If the defense presents factual and relevant evidence, the court must take it into account alongside the prosecutor's recommendations while deciding on a sentence.
Your defense lawyer could seek a different punishment than the one the prosecution suggests. To avoid imprisonment, your defense could seek alternatives to jail time, such as GPS-monitored home arrest.
During sentencing, defendants have the option of being represented by an attorney or representing themselves. The United States Supreme Court has determined that offenders have a legal right to be represented by attorneys throughout the sentencing phase of their cases unless they choose to forgo that privilege.
If you have a lawyer representing you during sentencing, you can make sure the prosecution's statements are accurate and relevant to your case. Also, your lawyer can assist by gathering and presenting to the court relevant material about you to dispute any unfavorable information the prosecutor has provided. Since it's a crucial point in the case, the state is required to offer the accused legal representation if they are unable to pay for one.
The Defendant’s Statement
When passing judgment, judges also take into account the statements made by the defendants. Defendants have a right to express their views during the hearing. Federal judges have to directly address every defendant to ascertain whether they wish to address the court before their sentence is issued.
When a matter is brought before a state court, the right of an offender to address the court during the sentencing process is frequently guaranteed by state laws or drawn from sections of state constitutions.
Yet, there is no requirement that defendants testify during the sentencing hearings. In rare circumstances, a lawyer could strategically decide that remaining quiet is in the defendant's best interests. At the time of sentencing, a defendant always has the statutory right to be in attendance regardless if or not he decides to make a statement.
Nonetheless, a defendant could be ejected from court when their actions during the sentencing hearing turn out to be extremely disruptive and the judge determines they are doing so on purpose. According to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the court must first caution the accused that any further disruptive conduct could result in their removal and if the conduct persists, the judge will legally order that they be removed.
Defendants have the option of voluntarily giving up their rights to attend the sentencing hearing. If it is demonstrated that the accused voluntarily chose to miss the procedure, then the defendant's absenteeism will not inherently result in an interruption during the sentencing process. However, under federal laws, defendants cannot opt out of being present in death sentence proceedings.
Witness Testimony During the Sentencing Hearing
Sentencing judges take into account testimony from additional witnesses along with the prosecution's and defense's testimony. According to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the judge has the discretion to take testimony from witnesses before sentencing.
Although the decision is typically left up to the discretion of the judge, a witness should be allowed to appear if they have reliable evidence that is "particularly significant" to a "key" sentencing factor.
Pre-sentence investigations of the offender, often known as PSI, are usually the source of a substantial portion of the evidence that is presented to the judge at the sentencing phase of a criminal case.
After the PSI is performed, a comprehensive report details numerous aspects of the accused's life. Before a sentencing hearing, the report needs to be made available to the judge, the prosecution, and the defense.
Judges frequently use the reports as part of their sentence deliberations when dealing with felonies, although they are hardly used in cases involving minor charges. In state courts, defendants have the right to request to skip the pre-sentence investigation and go straight to sentencing when no one objects. But defendants facing charges in federal court are not allowed to waive the pre-sentence investigation.
After a defendant is convicted, a probationary officer is typically appointed to their case and tasked with preparing their PSI report. Interviewing the offender is a common way for the officer to start an inquiry and learn more about the offense and the accused's present situation.
Some of the questions that could be posed to the defendants during the PSI interviews concern the defendant's state of mind at the moment when the crime occurred and if or not the defendant feels remorse. They could also be questioned about their long-term plans or objectives that can help prevent them from relapsing into criminal behavior again.
The probationary officer's duty is not limited to interviewing the offender; court records should also be reviewed to ensure the accuracy of the accused's criminal past. The officer could be required to search through years' worth of court documents in some instances.
To gather further details about the offender, including their family history, educational background, career history, as well as any health or drug dependence issues, the officer could also speak with people who personally know the offender. The objective of this report is to present the judge with the most thorough assessment of the offender.
Pre-sentence investigation reports are typically several pages long and take several weeks to compile since they are meant to be detailed. Nonetheless, the judge has the right to ask for information that is not generally included in a regular PSI.
A judge could, for instance, ask that a psychiatric evaluation be added to the report for an offender whose strange behavior was observed during the trial.
Alternatively, if a defendant is found guilty of a drug crime, the judge could request that the officer compiling the report perform a drug test on the offender and record the results in the report before sentencing.
If a PSI report is used, the judge will almost always and substantially rely on it when imposing a sentence. The judge gets the chance to review the report before the session, and they will likely come into the sentencing phase with some predefined notions about the type of sentencing that should be imposed.
As a result, it's critical that defendants begin the PSI process mindful of the possible implications that their actions and statements throughout the PSI interview could have on the ruling. This is why invoking the right to legal counsel during their sentencing is critical.
What Kind of Evidence Can Be Used To Reduce Your Sentence?
During pre-sentencing hearings, any relevant information, including hearsay, could be used to demonstrate why an offender needs a lighter punishment.
Below are six different types of facts that could lessen a charge under Arizona criminal law:
- The defendant's age.
- The accused's inability to understand how bad his or her actions were or to follow the rules of the law.
- Any unusual or substantial duress imposed on the accused person at the time the crime was committed.
- The significance of the accused's participation in the crime.
- If the crime is linked to a car crash, such as DUI, whether the offender pulled over to assist the victim.
- Any other information about the accused's character, upbringing, or the circumstances surrounding the crime.
This last category of mitigating facts could take various forms, including:
- The accused's strong relations with the society.
- Family responsibilities and support.
- Acceptance of accountability.
Factors That Can Lengthen Your Sentence
Provisions of ARS 13-701 d acknowledge 27 aggravating elements that can lengthen a defendant's prison sentence. Among these are:
- The defendant either paid or received payment from someone else to perpetrate a crime.
- The crime involved the use of a lethal or dangerous weapon.
- The alleged victim was either disabled, older than 65 years, or both.
- The accused pretended to be a law enforcement officer while committing the crime.
- The accused's identity was concealed with a mask.
Prosecutors, unlike mitigating elements, can only show proof of the aggravating elements listed by law. The Supreme Court rules that an accused person's Due Process rights can be violated when a new aggravating element is used to prolong the duration of their prison term.
Prosecutors should demonstrate at least one aggravating element to the jury's satisfaction beyond any reasonable doubt, or the accused should acknowledge one of the guilty pleas, to increase the sentence. If the accused person renounces his/her right to have a jury trial, the element should be demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt to a magistrate.
When the first aggravating circumstance has been demonstrated, the magistrate can give the maximum punishment. Additional aggravating elements should be demonstrated to the magistrate by a preponderance of the evidence at pre-sentencing hearings.
Guilty Pleas and Sentencing
When it comes to minor offenses, the magistrate will normally sentence the offender immediately after he or she enters a no-contest plea, guilty plea, or proven guilty after the case. Nonetheless, the judge could take several weeks or even days to enforce the appropriate punishment when a lengthy period of incarceration is at stake. This would take place during a separate hearing that was scheduled.
The sentencing process usually takes a short while. If the court formally adopts the sentence that was negotiated during the plea discussions, then this is most likely to happen. For example, a judge can impose a cash fine, a year of probation, and a 30-day suspended jail sentence. A felony sentence can also be issued swiftly if it is included in a plea agreement. A person can be sentenced to 7 years in jail in less than 10 minutes.
It would be false to presume that it is always a brief process. After all, the magistrate has the legal discretion to impose longer prison sentences. The pre-sentencing report hastens the proceedings. Both the defense and the prosecutor are given a chance to present their arguments against or for the report's facts and recommendations.
What to Say to a Judge Before Sentencing
Nobody can talk more convincingly than an accused person as he or she prepares to receive his or her sentencing. Before a judge decides the penalties, these individuals are given the opportunity to testify.
It is in the best interest of the accused person and his/her legal team to thoroughly prepare for the "accused's right of allocution" so that the perpetrator knows what, if anything, to say before the court.
The Pre-sentencing Report
Courts can review the pre-sentencing reports as one of the pieces of evidence presented at a pre-sentencing hearing. Probation officers and other screening officials compile this information. It includes:
- Information regarding the accused and the case.
- Statements from victims.
- An evaluation of the accused's risk.
- Recommendation for a sentence.
If the Superior Court has to issue a sentencing decision, it should seek a presentence report except if:
- The accused cannot be imprisoned for more than one year.
- The defendant asks for an expedited sentencing.
- The accused already has a presentence report, often from a different case.
What is a Sentencing Review Hearing?
At a certain point, the courts can schedule sentence review hearings to determine whether the sentence's requirements have been adhered to compliance. An offender should not show up unrepresented at this hearing unless they're convinced that they have complied with all court directives.
Consult with a lawyer if you have one on retainer. If you don't have legal counsel, make contact with one as soon as you receive notification of the sentencing review hearing. It is crucial that you get legal assistance as fast as you can if you're sure that you've not complied with the court's directives.
Are Sentencing Hearings Open to the Public?
Your sentence hearing will be held in open court, just like a trial.
What Follows a Sentencing Hearing?
If offenders are sentenced to prison in a court of law, they are held in police custody until they are transported to prison. Therefore, you will report to jail right away after your sentencing. If the purpose of the federal sentencing hearing was probation or treatment, the offender would have to plan and coordinate registration in the appropriate program(s) and for authorized supervision with the relevant officials and organizations.
Find a Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you've been found guilty of an offense, it is crucial to engage a lawyer who can fight for you and defend your rights throughout the sentencing hearing. Call the Phoenix Criminal Attorney at 602-551-8092 today if you need any help with your case.