In the life of a Utah criminal case, the sentencing hearing is the very last proceeding that will occur. In fact, in cases that go particularly well where the charges are dismissed or you are found not guilty, there will not be a sentencing hearing at all. This hearing, where the judge will decide what sorts of penalties to impose upon you for your crimes, will only occur when you enter a guilty plea or are convicted at trial. In order to achieve the best possible outcome to your case, you should retain an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden as earlier in the life of your case as possible. Below, our attorneys explain when you can and should get a lawyer, what happens in a case leading up to the sentencing hearing, and the structure and possible outcomes of the sentencing hearing itself.
When Should I Retain a Lawyer in My Utah Criminal Case?
You are entitled to counsel long before sentencing, from the moment you are arrested and even before. For example, if the police want to conduct a pre-arrest interview of you, even if they have not officially labeled you a suspect, you are entitled to the presence of counsel by your side if you consent to the interview. At your initial appearance after an arrest, the judge will advise you of your right to retain a lawyer or to be represented by a public defender if you cannot afford one.
These public defenders are extremely overworked and will not be able to devote anywhere near the necessary time and energy to your case like our experienced criminal defense lawyers at Overson & Bugden can. Furthermore, you will want to retain a lawyer even before this first appearance if possible, as your bail hearing and arraignment may occur at the same time. You will certainly want an experienced Salt Lake City attorney for a criminal arraignment and Salt Lake City bail hearing attorney like those at our firm by your side advocating on your behalf at these events. Our lawyers will stay with you through the end of your case, including your sentencing hearing if one occurs.
What Happens at a Utah Sentencing Hearing?
As noted above, if you plead guilty to a crime or are convicted at trial, a sentencing hearing will be held. Sentencing might occur right after the guilty plea or verdict in some smaller cases, such as most traffic ticket cases. For more serious matters, the sentencing hearing will usually be held sometime within 45 days after the conviction is entered by the court. Sometimes, your lawyer might have negotiated a deal with the prosecutor for you to plead guilty in exchange for the prosecutor recommending a more lenient sentence to the judge. While the judge is not technically bound by this agreement, they will usually follow the prosecutor’s recommendation except for in extenuating circumstances.
At the sentencing hearing, your lawyer and the prosecutor will have a chance to argue to the judge about how you should be sentenced. If the prosecutor chooses to use their time, they will likely focus on any aggravating factors, such as the fact that you committed a hate crime or have multiple prior convictions for the same offense. Our lawyers, in turn, will point out any mitigating factors that suggest the judge should show leniency. Mitigating factors that can convince a judge to impose a lesser sentence include your age and maturity level, the level or remorse you have shown, the fact that the crime did not result in any serious damage or injury, and the overall context of your life and experiences.
Sometimes, the alleged victim will appear at this hearing to read what is known as a “victim impact statement.” They will usually call for steep penalties. Our lawyers can decide if it would be good for you to make your own statement and, if so, can help your craft the most persuasive statement to convince the judge to impose a lenient punishment.
What are the Possible Outcomes of a Utah Sentencing Hearing?
Usually, a judge has a fairly large amount of discretion in deciding what penalties to impose after listening to both sides. Aside from what was presented at the hearing, they will put a large amount of stock in the recommendations and findings of the pre-sentencing report, which will be prepared by a probation officer after a series of in-depth interview with you.
There are some limits to the judge’s discretion, however, including mandatory maximums sentences and mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes. For example, a class A misdemeanor is typically punishable by a maximum of a year in jail and $2,500. Of course, there can sometimes be aggravating factors that can cause crimes usually charged as misdemeanors to be upgraded to felonies. Mandatory minimum jail sentences are enshrined in the law for many of the most serious Utah crimes, including aggravated sexual assault, murder, and rape of a child. Mandatory minimums give the judge less wiggle room when it comes to showing leniency.
There are a wide variety of outcomes that can result from a sentencing hearing. If you are sentenced to a prison term, you will usually be taken into custody immediately to begin serving your sentence. A skilled Salt Lake City criminal appeals lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden may be able to file an appeal of the guilty verdict or the sentence on your behalf. If you are assessed fines and fees, we can help you set up a reasonable payment schedule with the court. If you are put on probation, you will have to follow all of your probation requirements, including meeting with your probation officer, or you could end up back in court on a violation, which could result in further penalties including probation being rescinded.
If You Are Concerned About Avoiding a Harsh Sentence, Contact Our Skilled Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers Today
It is important that you or a loved one retain an experienced Utah criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden as soon after your arrest as possible to give us the maximum chance at guiding your case to a positive resolution. If we are able to get your charges dismissed or enter you into a pre-trial diversion program, there may be no need for a sentencing hearing. If such a hearing occurs, we will fight to paint a full picture of you and get you the lowest possible sentence. Call us today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.