Just a few decades ago the sentence imposed for a criminal conviction could differ wildly from one defendant to the next. In an effort to standardize sentencing, many court systems have created sentencing guidelines or matrixes. Judges are usually required to use the guidelines as a starting point but may deviate up or down with good reason. Often, however, a defendant may qualify for a sentence enhancement which will increase the sentence imposed even more.
A sentence enhancer is a specific fact or circumstance that exists in your case which allows the sentencing judge to increase your sentence. These are often facts or circumstances that would also be considered aggravators under past sentencing structures. Some of the most common sentencing enhancements include:
- Criminal history – if you have a history of prior convictions, whether for similar offenses or not, this is often reason for a judge to enhance your sentence for the current conviction.
- Weapons – the presence of a weapon during the commission of a crime is often a reason to enhance a sentence. If the weapon was actually used during the commission of the crime it may increase your sentence even more.
- Victim’s age – if the offense for which you are convicted includes a victim, and the victim is either a minor or elderly you can usually plan on receiving an enhanced sentence.
- Location – many drug offenses are automatically enhanced if the offense took place close to a school, park, or anywhere else where children are likely to be found.
- Habitual Offender status – this is similar to prior criminal history; however, if you qualify for a habitual or repeat offender status it often means you will receive a mandatory sentence, receive the maximum sentence, of be considered as a “three strikes” criminal – all of which will increase your sentence.
- Quantity – if you are convicted of a drug offense, the quantity of drugs involved will frequently increase the sentence you are given. Likewise, if you are convicted of driving under the influence and your chemical test results were especially high you could qualify for enhanced sentencing.
Understanding what facts and circumstances could enhance your sentence is crucial when deciding whether or not to take your case to trial or accept a plea agreement. Be sure to discuss any applicable enhancements in your case with your Nebraska criminal defense attorney.