Sentencing Procedures

Soon after a defendant has pled guilty or has been found guilty at trial, a Judge will decide on the appropriate punishment during the sentencing phase of a criminal case. This is otherwise known as the sentence. Sentencing for criminal offenses can range from probation and community service to prison and even the death penalty.

Sentencing usually takes place almost immediately after convictions for minor infractions and misdemeanors, or when a defendant has pled guilty. In more complex criminal cases, such as those involving serious felonies, the sentencing judge usually receives input from the prosecutor, the defense, and the probation department, who prepare recommendations in a “pre-sentence report.

In most cases, the judge will consider several factors in determining a criminal sentence, which include whether the offender has any prior criminal history; whether the offender was the main offender or an accessory (someone who assists the main offender) or; whether the offender was under great personal stress or duress when he or she committed the crime; whether anyone was injured or the crime was particularly likely to result in injury; whether the offender was particularly cruel to a victim, or particularly destructive, or vindictive; and whether the offender displayed remorse or regret.

Judges in most cases have a great deal of discretion when determining a sentence and have several sentencing alternatives from which to choose, from diversion to incarceration. Not every conviction means a trip to prison and alternative sentences can include: Suspended sentences; Fines or restitution; Community service; Deferred adjudication or pretrial diversion which would result in a dismissal of the charges; and/or Probation.

Additionally, there are many different types of sentences. Multiple sentences can be served concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after another), and single sentences could be deferred or suspended based on certain conditions.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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Probation Ain’t that Bad!!!!

Probation is the suspension of a jail sentence that allows a person convicted of a crime a chance to remain in the community, instead of going to jail. Probation requires that you follow certain court-ordered rules and conditions under the supervision of a probation officer. Typical conditions may include performing community service, meeting with your probation officer, refraining from using illegal drugs or excessive alcohol, avoiding certain people and places, and appearing in court during requested times. More likely than not, you may be ordered to perform some sort of evaluation (i.e. alcohol drug evaluation, domestic violence etc.) and follow the treatment program recommended by the State certified evaluator. Now you may be wondering, how long is this probation going to last?

The amount of time you are on probation depends on the offense and laws of your state. Typically, probation lasts anywhere from one to five years on misdemeanor cases, but can last longer and even up to life depending on the type of conviction, such as drug or sex felony offenses.

The conditions imposed while on probation relate to the type of criminal offense. For example, a judge may require you to submit to periodic drug testing or attend a drug rehabilitation program for a drug-related offense. Similarly, a judge may require that you avoid specific people or group members for a gang-related or battery type of offense. Most understand what is required of them while on probation because the Court typically makes it very clear what conditions the defendant must follow. Moreover, the assigned probation officer usually will review all of the conditions once the defendant is placed on probation. The defendant would also receive all of the conditions of probation in writing. The majority are able to get through probation successfully but what happens if you violate the conditions of probation?

Probation violation occurs when you break any of the rules or conditions set forth in the probation order at any time during the probation period. When a potential violation is discovered, your probation officer has the discretion to simply give you a warning, or require you to attend a probation violation hearing. If a judge determines that you violated your probation, you may face additional probation terms, heavy fines, a revoked probation, jail time, or more.

A revoked probation does not automatically mean you will be sent to jail. A judge has a variety of options available during sentencing. For instance, upon a revoked probation, a judge may add an extra length to the probation, impose additional fines, or require you get additional counseling or attend other treatment programs. Even so, a judge may order you to serve a brief period of time in jail, or require you to serve the time allotted on your original sentence, depending on the circumstances. Upon a probation violation, you may request a bail hearing in felony cases to allow you to remain free for a brief period of time before having to serve time in jail or before a judge makes his final determination.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

What Happens on Appeal?

Each and every criminal defendant has certain constitutional rights, the most important being the right to have a jury of his or her own peers decide whether they are guilty or innocent of the alleged crime. Taking a case to trial is a risky proposition for those participating, especially for the criminal defendant involved in the case. If a defendant is convicted of a crime at trial, there are certain appellate rights they have. The government may also appeal a case.

In order for an appellate court to hear an appeal from a lower court the aggrieved party must demonstrate to the appellate court that an error was made at the trial level. The error must have been substantial. “Harmless errors,” or those unlikely to make a substantial impact on the result at trial, are not grounds for reversing the judgment of a lower court. Any error, defect, irregularity, or variance which does not affect substantial rights, are generally disregarded.

Assuming that there was no harmless error, there are two basic grounds for appeal. The first being that the lower court may have made a serious error of the established law (plain error) and the second being that the weight of the evidence does not support the verdict reached by a judge or jury.

Plain error is an error or defect that affects the defendant’s substantial rights, even though the parties did not bring this error or defect to the judge’s attention during trial. Of course, some plain errors or defects affecting substantial rights may be noticed although they were not brought to the attention of the court. In any event, plain error will form a basis for an appeal of a criminal conviction.

It is much more difficult to prevail in an appeal based on the alleged insufficient weight of evidence. Although appellate courts review the transcripts of trials, they almost never hear actual testimony of witnesses, view the presentation of evidence, or hear the parties’ opening and closing arguments. As a result, they are not in the best position to assess the weight of the evidence in many cases. For this reason they place much confidence in trial courts’ decisions on issues of facts. In an appeal based on an alleged insufficient weight of evidence to support a verdict, the error or misjudgment of evidence must truly be egregious for a defendant to expect to prevail on appeal.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

The majority of criminal cases end in a guilty plea or “no contest” (nolo contendre) plea for a variety of reasons. These reasons include purely strategic ones unrelated to actual guilt. For instance, a defendant’s chances at trial may seem slim (and a plea bargain is offered); there may be confusion surrounding the incident; the decision to plead guilty resulted from ineffective legal counsel; or perhaps an attorney wasn’t present at the arraignment.

Before sentencing, courts generally allow defendants to withdraw a guilty plea for any “fair and just reason,” especially if the judge has not yet accepted the plea or rejects a negotiated plea deal. The fact remains it is much more difficult to withdraw a guilty (or no contest) plea after sentencing. For instance, a guilty or no contest plea may be withdrawn after sentencing “only on direct appeal or collateral attack,” according to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (Rule 11, scroll to page 5).

After a defendant who has plead guilty has been sentenced, courts typically will not allow a withdrawal of the plea unless there was some kind of injustice involved, as is illustrated in the introduction. If made in a timely manner, courts generally will allow plea withdrawals after sentencing for the following conditions:

Defendant was denied effective assistance of legal counsel, as guaranteed by law.

The plea was not entered by the defendant or anyone authorized to act on their behalf.

Plea was not made voluntarily, or was entered without knowledge of the charge or sentence.

Defendant did not receive the concessions agreed to in the plea deal.

Defendant entered a guilty plea under the judge-approved condition that it could be withdrawn if the court rejected the agreed-upon conditions of the plea.

Defendant entered a guilty as the result of promises or threats made off-the-record (assuming they can be proven).

It is simply not enough to claim dissatisfaction with the outcome of the sentencing hearing, assuming it didn’t result in a miscarriage of justice. But even without the defendant’s request, a judge is required to set aside a guilty plea when there is strong evidence (perhaps latent DNA test results) of the defendant’s innocence.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.