What to Expect at a Sentencing Hearing
When the sentencing hearings of Bill Cosby or Larry Nassar occured, everyone saw the headlines. Through photos, videos and recordings, media coverage gave the country a closer look at this integral part of our criminal justice system. But there’s a lot more to know when you’re the one on trial. If you’ve been convicted of a crime, here’s what you can expect at a sentencing hearing in Pennsylvania.
What is a Sentencing Hearing?
When a defendant pleads guilty or is convicted of a crime, a sentence must be served. Sentencing in PA varies based on the crime committed and can be a confusing procedure. In most cases, the sentencing of a defendant is at the judge’s discretion. However, by state law, there are a number of mandatory minimum sentences that may also be involved.
A sentencing hearing takes place in an open court, just like a trial. The district attorney, defendant and defense counsel will all be present as the judge will review all the information of the case provides to determine the length and disposition of the defendant’s sentence.
What Happens at a Sentencing Hearing?
During a sentencing hearing, it’s the trial judge’s responsibility to sentence the convicted in accordance with the law of the state in which the crime was committed, but the judge does has a wide array of sentencing alternatives available in his decision. This could mean ordering a defendant to serve probation while on electronic home monitoring and paying restitution to a victim, or performing community service while enrolled in a drug or alcohol treatment program.
There may be certain restraints, however, as various crimes carry mandatory sentences, which must be fulfilled. These crimes may also have maximum sentences in which the judge cannot exceed. The degree of the crime will determine these restraints as stated below:
18 Pa.C.S.A. §1101 et seq.
|Felony 1st Degree||20 years||$25,000|
|Felony 2nd Degree||10 years||$25,000|
|Felony 3rd Degree/Felonyu*||7 years||$15,000|
|Misdemeanor 1st Degree||5 years||$10,000|
|Misdemeanor 2nd Degree||2 years||$5,000|
|Misdemeanor 3rd Degree/Misdemeanoru**||1 year||$2,500|
*Fu=F3; See 18 Pa.C.S.A. §106(b)(5)
**Mu=M3; See 18 Pa.C.S.A. §106(b)(9)
***Default Fine, 75 Pa.C.S.A. §6502(a)
Your sentencing guideline will be based on two things: 1. The seriousness of the offense (Offense Gravity Score) 2. Your prior criminal record (Prior Record Score).
While deciding what sentencing to impose, the judge will consult the sentencing guideline and review the pre-sentence report prepared by the probation officer. This contains background information on the defendant, such as criminal record, medical or psychiatric reports and any time spent in custody awaiting trial. The judge may also permit oral statements to be made in open court from the prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims and/or the defendant.
If a sentence has not already been set based on plea negotiations, the prosecution will further outline the facts of the case and highlight specific things that may make it more or less serious based on the impact it had on the victims. This may also include a Victim Personal Statement. The defense will then have a chance to respond with an explanation of the specific circumstances in an attempt to lessen the seriousness of the crime. Based on the information provided and shared throughout the hearing, the judge will decide on the defendant’s sentence.
How Long Does a Sentencing Hearing Take?
The actual sentencing of a case takes only a few minutes, especially if plea negotiations have been made prior to the hearing. Felony cases can even wrap up fairly quickly when the sentence has been predetermined as part of the plea bargain. But this isn’t always the case. For example, if the judge is legally authorized to order a more serious sentence and imprisonment, the prosecution and defense will take their turns arguing for or against the probation officer’s recommendations provided in the pre-sentencing report (as mentioned above).
How to Learn more…
If you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime, there still may be a chance to reduce your sentence and protect your future. For an experienced defense attorney who can provide the legal support you need throughout every step of the process, contact our team today.