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How Does A Sentencing Hearing Proceed In California?

Once an individual has been convicted of a crime in California, a crucial, usually life-altering, step remains – the court’s determination of the defendant’s sentence. This sentencing may occur immediately after conviction or at a future sentencing hearing.

California law allows the prosecutor and defense an opportunity to address the trial court judge about sentencing at this hearing. Typically, the prosecution will argue and present evidence that the defendant should receive the maximum sentence possible, while the defense presents evidence of facts that mitigate any harsh or maximum sentence. An experienced criminal defense lawyer who may formulate, organize, and present an argument to mitigate a criminal sentence is invaluable.

A sentencing hearing is a court proceeding whereby judges impose penalties upon defendants who have been convicted of criminal offenses. The sentencing hearing occurs after a defendant enters a guilty or no contest plea or has been found guilty in a jury or bench trial.

Under California Penal Code § 1191, a felony sentencing hearing must take place within 20 days of a verdict, finding, or guilty plea. The court may extend this time for up to 10 days under certain circumstances. These circumstances include when a defendant is considering filing a motion for a new trial, the court is awaiting a probation recommendation from the local probation department, or the court is determining whether the defendant is insane.

Generally, if a defendant is not in custody at the time of conviction, he or she will likely be remanded to custody. If a court does not order a defendant into custody at the time of conviction, or otherwise keep a criminal defendant in custody until the sentencing hearing, it may allow a defendant to remain out of custody on bail.

Defendants have various inalienable rights at sentencing hearings, including the right to:

  • Attend the hearing;
  • Be represented by an attorney;
  • Make a statement to the court;
  • Present evidence of mitigating factors and witnesses on your behalf; and
  • Suggest an alternative sentence, such as probation instead of jail or prison.

Judges have broad discretion in sentencing defendants found guilty at trial. Judges chiefly determine the sentences of defendants based upon the circumstances of their cases. A sentence may be based on a plea agreement.

Judges may give a split sentence in felony cases where a defendant serves part of his or her sentence in custody, then is released to serve the remaining sentence on formal probation. Defendants’ eligibility for probation is primarily based on the nature of the offense and any prior criminal conduct. Unless the penalty for a crime is a life sentence or death, courts will sentence defendants to one of the three terms of imprisonment under California Penal Code § 1170 when probation is not an option.

There are alternative forms of recovery available to those accused of a crime in California. It is important to determine their applicability to your criminal matter. John Patrick Dolan has over forty years of experience working to help his clients obtain the best resolution possible when freedom and reputation are at stake. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.

How Does A Sentencing Hearing Proceed In California?

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