If you have never been through the criminal justice process before, and suddenly find yourself involved as a defendant, it can be a scary feeling. Along with worrying about the outcome of your case, you must learn how to navigate the criminal justice system and educate yourself about what happens at each stage of a criminal prosecution. If you are eventually found guilty, either through a guilty plea agreement or at trial, the next step is usually a sentencing hearing. So you will have some idea what to expect, a Nebraska criminal attorney explains what happens at a sentencing hearing.
How Do You Get to a Sentencing Hearing?
Every criminal prosecution must be resolved in some manner. Ideally, yours will end with the charges against you dismissed or with an acquittal of all charges against you at trial. The other options, however, include acceptance of a guilty plea agreement or conviction at trial. If you accept a guilty plea agreement it will only be after your criminal defense attorney has negotiated the terms of that agreement with the prosecuting attorney. Usually, the agreement specifies the punishment you will receive, such as a specific amount of time in prison and/or a term of probation; however, in some cases, the punishment will have an “open” term. If the terms are “open” it means the court will decide. If you are convicted at trial, your punishment will always be decided by the judge. In both cases – a plea agreement and conviction at trial – your case will usually be set for a sentencing hearing at which time your sentence will be officially handed down by the judge.
What Is a Pre-Sentence Report?
If the judge is going to exercise discretion in your sentence, and sometimes even when the terms are already set by agreement, the court may order a pre-sentence investigation. This is typically handled by the probation department and is intended to give the judge relevant information about your criminal background as well as your personal history and current situation. After meeting with the person assigned to conduct your investigation, a pre-sentence report will be compiled and sent to the judge presiding over your sentencing. The judge will review the report and use information contained therein to determine your sentence.
What Happens at the Actual Sentencing Hearing?
At your actual sentencing hearing, both your criminal defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney will be allowed to present evidence and/or elicit testimony in support of their position on sentencing. Your attorney, for example, might introduce letters from respected members of the community asking for leniency while the State might introduce a letter from a victim who wants you to receive a harsh sentence. Likewise, your attorney might elicit testimony about abuse you suffered as a child while the State might elicit testimony about abuse you perpetrated as an adult. Whether or not you testify at your sentencing hearing is a decision you must make after discussing the matter with your criminal defense attorney. Both your attorney and the prosecuting attorney will also be able to make an argument in support of their desired sentence. Similar to a closing argument at trial, your attorney will sum up all relevant mitigating circumstances that argue for a minimum sentence while the prosecuting attorney will sum up the aggravating factors that argue for a maximum sentence. Ultimately, the judge will decide what the terms of your sentence will be but only after listening to, and contemplating, all of the evidence and testimony submitted at your sentencing hearing.
Contact a Nebraska Criminal Attorney
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal attorney right away to discuss possible defenses. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.