Sentencing Phase: What Is It and How Does It Work?
There are many steps to the criminal process in Nevada or any other state for that matter.
The final step in the criminal process occurs through either a plea bargain between the defense and prosecution or the sentencing phase, carried out by a judge or jury.
This penalty phase of a trial will determine the punishment the defendant receives for the conviction. There are many factors that determine the sentence for a crime.
Certain punishments are legally binding, outlining specific consequences for certain offenses. In other cases, judges take into account various factors and the gravity of the crime when determining the appropriate sentence.
Most defendants don’t realize that you still need a good defense team after the trial phase of a criminal proceeding. During the sentencing phase of any criminal matter, you have the opportunity to again plead your case to possibly get a reduced sentence or fine.
Your defense attorney will be able to put on almost a mini-trial during the sentencing phase. In some cases, the sentencing phase of a trial may require a new attorney who is experienced with this part of a criminal case.
In Nevada, resentencing hearings are also a possibility even years after the defendant has been found guilty and has been sentenced.
In these cases, the guilt or innocence of the defendant is not the issue, just if the sentence for the crime is constitutional or legal in some manner.
If convicted of a crime you’ll still need a good defense team to argue your case at a sentencing hearing.
What Types of Sentences Are Given by the Nevada Courts
The sentences are punishments that the courts give a defendant who has been convicted in a criminal matter.
The sentences given by the Nevada court typically include:
- Prison or jail time: This will either be in Nevada state prison or the local jail like Clark County Detention Center. Prison terms vary based on the severity of the crime. Also if you are a repeat offender plays a part in the sentence
- Monetary Fines: amounts will vary depending on the crime
- House arrest with electronic monitoring
- A suspended sentence: This will require the defendant to complete all other sentencing requirements issued by the court. For example, doing hours of community service. If the defendant fails to complete the other sentencing requirements they will be arrested and required to complete the original jail term.
- Rehabilitation programs: Usually reserved for drugs and alcohol violations
- Educational classes like DUI school
- Restitution payments to victims
- Probation: you avoid jail by being sentenced to probation. Probation requires various court orders while you’re under the sentence of probation for example random drug testing.
Does Every Crime Get Its Own Sentence ?
There are several sentencing guidelines that the court refers to when issuing a sentence for a conviction of a crime.
Some are standard sentences for all crimes of the same category while others are a combination of several factors including the sentencing guidelines.
- Misdemeanors have a sentencing guideline of up to 6 months in jail and or up to a $1000 fine. This could mean no jail time at all up to 6 months and a fine of zero dollars or up to $1000.
- Felonies are the most serious class of crimes and are divided into five categories depending on the class of felony and the seriousness of the felony conviction will determine the sentence. For example, a class A felony conviction (for very serious crimes like murder), the sentence usually includes life in prison with the possibility of parole or life in prison without the possibility of parole. A class A felony can also include a death sentence.
In certain instances, when defendants are found guilty of multiple offenses, the sentences they receive for each conviction can be confusing.
A judge can also decide based on the severity of the crime and if the defendant is a repeat offender or not whether or not the sentences will run consecutively (one after the other) or concurrently (a the same time).
For example, if a defendant is convicted of two counts of burglary and one count of drug possession, the judge may decide to have the sentences run concurrently rather than consecutively. This means that jail time will be served for all three offenses at the same time, reducing the overall amount of jail time.
How Does a Plea Bargain Affect Sentencing
A plea bargain is a deal between the defense team and prosecution usually to avoid a costly and lengthy trial.
When a plea bargain is reached, both sides offer a sentence recommendation.
However just because a sentence agreement is reached between both parties doesn’t mean the sentence will be the one given.
The judge has the final say in the sentence but almost always refers to the prosecution’s recommendations.
When Is a Sentence Issued to the Defendant?
The timing of the sentence depends on the nature of the criminal conviction.
For example, a person convicted of a misdemeanor may receive the sentence immediately after the trial or hearing is completed. If you are convicted of DUI, you will receive your sentence at the same time as the conviction.
Your license will be taken away at the time of conviction.
For more serious crimes like felonies, a hearing a few weeks after the trial will take place. A sentencing hearing will take place at a later date to allow both the prosecution and defense to prepare for a sentencing hearing.
A sentencing hearing is a mini-trial where both sides present a case for either a harsh sentence or a lesser sentence. During this hearing, both sides can present witnesses just like at the trial.
How Does a Judge Determine a Sentence
There are many factors that a judge takes into account when issuing a sentence.
They can include:
- First the severity of the crime and the damages caused by the defendant’s actions
- Mitigating factors presented at the sentencing hearing may hold the convicted party less responsible for their actions. For example, a defendant who was abused as a child may be held less responsible for their actions based on past trauma. The judge will take this into account.
- Aggravating factors that the prosecution presents at sentencing makes the defendant more worthy of a harsher sentence. These factors include previous criminal activity.
- The defendant’s own statements if they choose to testify at the sentencing hearing
- Recommendations from the Nevada Department of Parole and Probation. They use a sentencing scale to determine what their recommendations are.
- Testimony from the defendant’s family, friends and co-workers
- Testimony from the victims and the victim’s family
- Criminal history
For more serious crimes with sentencing hearings, the judge may take time to review all the evidence presented at the hearing and set another date to sentence the defendant after careful review of the hearing evidence.
This usually happens in felony cases.
Can a Defendant Appeal a Sentence?
Typically, when you receive a sentence as part of a plea agreement, it’s generally not possible to appeal either the conviction or the imposed sentence.
If you are convicted at trial, then you can appeal the sentence.
The appeals are usually on the grounds that the sentence violates the amendments Cruel and Usual Punishment Law.
However, it may be on other grounds like the judge not taking a piece of evidence into consideration. You can also appeal if you feel like your lawyer did not represent you properly at trial.
Facing Criminal Charges?
Are you facing criminal charges?
Do you need a lawyer to help with the penalty phase of your criminal process? Or perhaps your attorney withdrew from your case just before sentencing?
The Defenders can help you get your sentence reduced or even have your case dismissed based on evidence.