If your case goes particularly well, such as in a case where your charges are dismissed or you are able to enter into a pre-trial diversion program, you will never have a sentencing in Utah criminal court. Sentencing hearings do not occur in all cases, but only in those that end with you entering a plea of guilty or being convicted by a judge or jury. When they do occur, however, they are extremely important, as it is where the judge will decide what penalties to impose on you for the crimes of which you have been convicted. Below our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers at Overson & Bugden explain what happens at your sentencing hearing and how we can help you receive the most lenient sentence possible.
Events Leading Up to the Sentencing Hearing
Either during the course of the proceedings against you or after you have been convicted, a probation officer will conduct an interview or a series of interviews with you in order to prepare a pre-sentence report. The interview will cover a broad array of topics, including your criminal history, history on probation or parole, personal information, job status and history, ties to the local community, personal relationships, substance abuse issues, and more.
The recommendations and findings made in the pre-sentence report are given heavy weight by the judge in deciding what sentence to impose. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden understand the type of questions you will be asked and how to best answer the tough questions, and we can work to prepare you for this interview.
How Does the Sentencing Hearing Work in Utah?
The sentencing hearing is where the judge decides what punishment you will face for your crimes. In some cases, your lawyer may have worked out a deal with the prosecutor where you entered a guilty plea in exchange for the prosecutor recommending a relatively lenient sentence to the judge. While the judge does not technically have to take this recommendation, they almost always will. For minor crimes and infractions such as many traffic matters, the sentencing hearing might occur right after you enter your guilty plea or are convicted. Other times, it is scheduled for another day, usually but not always within 45 days.
At the sentencing hearing, both your lawyer and the prosecutor will be given a chance to argue their case in terms of how you should be sentenced. Sometimes, the prosecutor will waive their time, while other times, the alleged victim may be permitted to read a statement, which will usually include a call for harsh penalties. Depending on the situation, it may or may not be beneficial for you to make your own statement. Our experienced sentencing hearing attorneys at Overson & Bugden have been though many sentencings and can advise you on what we think is best in your case.
If the prosecutor chooses to speak, they will usually use their time to list off any aggravating factors, such as the involvement of a minor or committing a hate crime, that might justify a harsher sentence. We can work to rebut the prosecutor’s argument and detail any mitigating factors that might justify a lesser sentence. These can include the fact that you have showed remorse, if you have a clean criminal record, and the recommendations of friends, family, and neighbors who know your character.
What Kind of Penalties Can the Judge Impose at a Utah Sentencing Hearing?
For the most part, judges are given wide discretion regarding the types of penalties they impose at sentencing. However, there are some limits to this discretion. These include mandatory maximums sentences, which apply to many crimes, and mandatory minimum sentences, which typically apply to only the most serious charges. The judge cannot impose a jail term or fine higher than the mandatory maximum, and cannot imposes jail time or fines less than any mandatory minimum.
The judge will review the pre-sentencing report prepared by the probation officers. As noted above, the findings and recommendations in this report will carry great weight with the judge. The judge will also consider any testimony at the sentencing hearing, whether from you or the alleged victim, and the aggravating and mitigating factors involved.
Sometimes, for more minor crimes like disorderly conduct, the judge will impose a sentence that involves something like community service or mandatory anger management classes. The judge may also choose to place you on probation. You will have to strictly adhere to the requirements of your probation, which can include reporting to your officer regularly, submitting to drug tests, and staying out of further trouble, among other things. If your probation officer reports that you are in violation, your probation could be revoked and you can be resentenced.
Often, especially in cases such as burglary where restitution is owed, the judge will assess financial penalties for your crimes. Aside from restitution, this can include fines as well as court fees. If a jail sentence is imposed, you will likely be taken into custody immediately following the sentencing decision. If you wish to continue challenging the ruling, our skilled criminal appeals attorneys at Overson & Bugden can file an appeal of your sentence, your conviction, or both. We can help you understand what chances of success an appeal might have in your case.
For Skilled Representation from the Arraignment to the Sentencing Hearing, Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers Today
It is vital that you retain an experienced Murray criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden as soon after you are arrested as possible. The quicker we start working on your case, the better chance we have of bringing it to a successful resolution that does not involve a sentencing hearing. If a sentencing hearing does occur, we will leave no stone unturned fighting to make the judge understand you as a whole person and show leniency in their sentencing decision. For a free consultation, call our office today at (801) 758-2287.