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What to Expect During Sentencing

The Law Office of John Goalwin Aug. 29, 2023

Lawyer and judge speaking next to the criminal in handcuffsIt’s only natural to feel anxious and unsure during a criminal trial. Even if you’re working with a skilled criminal defense attorney who has kept you involved and informed during the process, there is still one big question that will be left unanswered until the end: your sentence.  

Because only a judge can issue your sentence, it’s important to prepare yourself for this event as much as possible. Knowing what to expect at sentencing can reduce stress and anxiety and allow you to plan around the possible rulings.  

If you’re in the Los Angeles, California, area, including Torrance, Norwalk, Van Nuys, and Compton, reach out to us at The Law Office of John Goalwin for expert legal advice. 

When Does Sentencing Occur?

Sentencing occurs at the end of your trial, after both the prosecution and defense have had an opportunity to present their cases and make their closing statements to the jury. The jury will then deliberate and come to a conclusion as to your guilt or innocence regarding your charges. Although the judge will read this verdict aloud at your trial, this is not the same thing as sentencing.  

The judge, not the jury, is the one who will decide your sentence, and this will happen later at your sentencing hearing. By law, this hearing must happen within 20 days of the verdict. You will then return to court where the judge will read out the sentence they’ve decided on. In some cases, the sentence may be read earlier, but this typically happens only when a plea bargain was already agreed upon. 

What Happens During Sentencing?

On the day of your hearing, you will return to the courtroom. In some cases, you may have been in custody during this time, while in others, you may have been allowed out on bail.  

These hearings are usually quite short, although they can take longer if information needs to be read out regarding your criminal record, to hear the court’s recommendations, and to listen to the defense or prosecution’s arguments for or against them. As the defendant, you are also allowed to make a statement during the hearing. In some cases, there may also be a victim impact statement made. 

How Is the Sentence Determined in Criminal Cases?

Sentencing typically occurs in one of two ways: 

  • Plea bargain: A plea bargain occurs when the prosecution and defense can both agree on a sentence and a judge concurs. These can happen both before the trial and after and can often result in a more favorable sentence, alternative sentencing, or even reduced charges. Many times, both sides will agree to a plea bargain in the beginning stages, meaning your case won’t even go to trial. 

  • By the judge: As stated above, although the jury decides the verdict of your case, a judge decides on the sentence. To do this, they will consult California’s sentencing guidelines and choose a punishment that fits within these parameters. Judges have a good amount of leeway during this process and will consider factors such as your past criminal convictions, the nature of your crime, whether there were any victims, your age, and any aggravating circumstances. For example, if you are a first-time offender, and you seem sufficiently remorseful and cooperative, a judge is likely to choose a more lenient sentence for you. 

Strong & Reliable Legal Representation

With 45 years of experience and a young and creative staff, our team is committed to providing the highest level of legal services to our clients and helping people just like you navigate the criminal justice system. If you’d like to learn more about sentencing and what to expect, and are in the Los Angeles, California, area, contact us at The Law Office of John Goalwin to schedule an appointment.