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What to Expect During Sentencing

E. Gordon Peters, Jr., Attorney at Law Jan. 30, 2024

In the wake of a conviction, the question on everyone's mind is often, "What happens next?" Sentencing is the legal process that takes place after a defendant has been found guilty of a crime. It involves determining the appropriate punishment for the offense, which can range from fines and community service to probation and imprisonment. This decision is made by a judge, who considers various factors such as the severity of the crime, criminal history, and mitigating circumstances in determining the sentence. 

We understand that facing a sentencing hearing can be a daunting prospect, but it's essential to remember that you are not alone. It is entirely normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious, but having a basic understanding of what to expect during this process can help alleviate some of these emotions. E. Gordon Peters, Jr., Attorney at Law is here to help individuals facing charges in Lynchburg and Blackstone, Virginia, as well as the surrounding areas of Amherst County, Campbell County, Bedford County, Nottoway County, Prince Edward County, and Charlotte County. Reach out today to schedule a consultation and get the personalized attention you deserve. 

Understanding Sentencing 

Sentencing is the judicial procedure where a judge determines the suitable punishment for an individual convicted of a crime. This process unfolds after the person is either found guilty or has pleaded guilty to the crime. The primary objectives of sentencing are to enforce justice, safeguard society, and present rehabilitation opportunities for the offender. 

When Does Sentencing Occur 

Typically, sentencing transpires after a trial or a guilty plea. It is the concluding phase in the criminal justice process before the convicted individual commences their sentence. The timing of the sentencing hearing can differ depending on the jurisdiction and the intricacy of the case. 

Factors That Influence Sentencing 

It's critical to understand that sentencing does not solely rely on a guilty plea. Various factors influence the final outcome of the sentencing process. A judge will consider factors such as the nature and severity of the crime, the history of the offender, the impact on the victim, and the defendant's personal circumstances like age, mental health, and level of remorse. Pre-sentence reports, victim impact statements, and mitigation by the defense are some of the elements that are meticulously scrutinized to determine the appropriate sentence. 

Types of Sentences 

The judge can impose various types of sentences based on the nature of the crime and the laws of the jurisdiction. These include: 

  • Probation: This sentence allows the convicted individual to stay in the community under supervision, typically instead of serving time in prison. 

  • Fines: This involves the payment of a sum of money as a penalty for the crime committed. 

  • Restitution: This requires the offender to compensate the victim for any harm caused by the crime. 

  • Imprisonment: This sentence involves confinement in a jail or prison for a specified period of time. 

  • Community Service: This requires the offender to perform a certain number of unpaid work hours for the benefit of the community. 

  • Deferred Sentence: In this case, the judge delays sentencing until a later date, usually to allow the defendant to demonstrate good behavior or meet certain conditions. 

  • Suspended Sentence: This sentence is given but not immediately enforced. If the convicted individual complies with certain conditions, the sentence may never be enforced. 

  • Mandatory Sentences: These are set by statute and the judge has no authority to lessen the severity, usually applicable in crimes involving firearms, repeat offenses, or drug trafficking. 

  • Death Penalty: This is the most severe form of punishment, applicable in some jurisdictions for heinous crimes such as murder. The convicted person is sentenced to death by the state. However, the death penalty is abolished in Virginia; therefore, an individual charged with any crime in Virginia, no matter how severe, will not receive the death penalty. 

A judge can impose any combination of these sentences. For example, one might be required to pay a fine and also serve probation. Alternatively, a defendant might be sentenced to prison and, following their release, be required to perform community service or pay restitution to the victim. This is known as a concurrent sentence, where different sentences run at the same time. On the other hand, consecutive sentences are served one after the other. The combination of sentences ultimately depends on the severity of the crime, prevailing laws, and the judge's discretion.  

The Sentencing Hearing 

The sentencing hearing is a structured court proceeding where the final sentence is determined. Here's what typically happens: 

  • Preparation: Before the hearing, the probation department may conduct a pre-sentencing investigation to gather information about the defendant. This can include details about their background, the impact of the crime, and any mitigating or aggravating factors. This information is compiled in a pre-sentencing report, which the judge reviews before the hearing. 

  • Presentations: At the hearing, both the prosecution and the defense get the opportunity to present their cases. This can involve presenting arguments, evidence, or testimonies to sway the judge's decision in their favor. Victims may also present impact statements, detailing how the crime has affected them. 

  • Sentencing Decision: After considering the evidence presented and the pre-sentencing report, the judge will make a sentencing decision. They will explain the reasons for the chosen sentence, discussing how they took the various factors into account. 

  • Notification: The judge will then inform the defendant of their sentence. They will explain the terms and conditions of the sentence, what it means for the defendant, and what the defendant's rights are in terms of appealing the decision.  

The sentencing hearing is an integral part of the criminal justice process, and understanding what unfolds can alleviate some of the uncertainty associated with it. 

Post-Sentencing Options 

After the sentencing hearing, there might be post-sentencing options available to the convicted individual. These options can include appealing the sentence, seeking parole or early release, or pursuing alternative sentencing programs like drug rehabilitation or community-based corrections. The availability of these options will depend on the specific laws and regulations of the jurisdiction. 

Navigating Sentencing With Confidence 

If you or a loved one are facing a sentencing hearing, it is essential to have an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney by your side. The law firm of E. Gordon Peters, Jr., Attorney at Law, led by Attorney Gordon, has been offering high-quality legal services to individuals and families throughout Virginia for over two decades. 

When you're facing a sentencing hearing or have questions about the process, don't hesitate to reach out. This law firm is here to provide compassionate support, experienced guidance, and a passionate legal defense. Make the first step towards securing the best possible outcome for your case by contacting us today to schedule a consultation.