The sentencing hearing marks the final stage of a criminal case. It is the very last chance for a defendant to reduce or avoid incarceration. That said, each defendant is well advised to carefully and strategically prepare for the sentencing hearing with a highly experienced attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to save you several years in prison simply by presenting you fully prepared at the sentencing hearing.
The sentencing hearing follows a guilty plea or a conviction at trial. If a case is dismissed or if your defense attorney and you win at trial, there is no sentencing hearing. In case of plea or conviction, the sentencing hearing is typically scheduled 30-90 days after guilt is formally established by entering the plea or by being found guilty at trial. The exact sequence and the time between plea agreement and sentencing hearing depend on the federal district you are in. There are 96 federal judicial districts in the US (e.g. Northern District of Texas, Southern District of Texas etc.) and each has slightly varying routines as to the timing for sentencing.
- Meet and cooperate with your probation officer. After all, it is the probation officer who will recommend penalties and punishment to the court. The probation officer will create a presentencing report, which includes a comprehensive analysis of the defendant’s personal, professional, social, and criminal history and prognosis. Refusal, providing misleading or wrong information to the probation officer could result in a significantly more negative evaluation and sentencing recommendation.
- Employment. If not incarcerated prior to sentencing, it is critical to present lawful employment to the court. The court will consider this as being part of and integrated in the free society.
- Good behavior. Under no circumstances should a defendant commit additional crimes or be arrested as a suspect prior to sentencing. Each such event must be reported to the probation officer, who must inform the court about the defendant’s apparent propensity to be a danger to society. The maxim of good behavior also applies for defendants that are incarcerated at the time of the sentencing hearing. Prison fights or disruptive behavior will not convince the court to give a defendant a lower sentence.
- Recruiting of favorable witnesses. During a sentencing hearing, defendants can call upon witnesses that attest the defendant’s good character. Very few defendants make use of this option. Likewise, those that pick witnesses make the big mistake and don’t prepare them for what exactly they should and should not say to help the defendant to save prison time or to earn probation. It is therefore very important that the determination of witnesses and their testimony is closely watched and prepared with your criminal defense lawyer.
Importantly, the case is not over with an acknowledgement of guilt. Defendants often make the mistake to give up and give in to the system once they are found guilty. Instead, prudent defendants, those that will save when it comes to “doing time,” will consult with their attorney to get as many bonus points prior to sentencing as possible. Contact our experienced attorneys for a free case evaluation.