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What Happens During Sentencing



Once you have been convicted of a crime, the next step is sentencing. You will appear before the judge, who will ask you a few basic questions, and then you will be given an opportunity to address the court. It is tempting to think that once you have been convicted nothing you do or say can affect your fate, but your conduct at the sentencing hearing can lead to a much harsher or lighter punishment.

Sentencing hearings are more informal than trials or plea hearings. You have already been found guilty, depriving you of many of your procedural rights. Further, the rules of evidence do not apply at sentencing; the judge is free to consider hearsay testimony and other evidence that would have been inadmissible at trial.

What the Judge Will Consider

The judge will consider many factors, attempting to gauge whether you pose a substantial risk to society. The following are a few of the more important considerations:

  • The facts of your case - If the judge believes that you acted reluctantly or under some form of compulsion, such as a mental illness or an addiction, you will receive a lighter sentence.
  • Your criminal record - First time offenders receive far lighter sentences. Depending on the nature of your previous convictions, you may be eligible for alternative forms of punishment.
  • The impact on the victim - The judge will consider the effect your crime had on the victim. Usually the court will request the victim to submit a written statement, but the victim may choose to testify in person.
  • Your demeanor - The judge's most memorable impressions of your character will flow from your conduct and appearance. If you dress appropriately, show remorse for your actions and treat the court with respect, you will receive a lighter sentence.

The Role of an Attorney

It is important to have a lawyer present for your sentencing. Defense attorneys know how judges calculate sentences, allowing them to plead for mercy more effectively. The state will be represented by a prosecutor; you need to ensure that a lawyer is in the courtroom to represent your interests.