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Sentencing Hearings in California Criminal Courts

Posted by Alan Eisner | Jun 28, 2019

Sentencing Hearings in California Criminal Courts
Once you are convicted of a crime in California, the next step in the process is the sentencing hearing where a judge will impose penalties.

After you have been convicted of a crime in the state of California, the next step is for the court to sentence you. The sentencing could occur immediately after your conviction or it could be set for later date.

Under California criminal law, this hearing gives the prosecutor and your defense lawyer an opportunity to address the court judge regarding your sentencing, thus it's commonly known as a sentencing hearing.

During the hearing, your lawyer will present an argument to the judge about mitigating factors to convince them why you should receive a minimum possible sentence.

On the other side, the Los Angeles County prosecutor will present an argument about aggravating factors to convince the judge to give you a maximum possible sentence. Clearly, you need to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer who knows how to present effective arguments on your behalf.

Our criminal defense law firm has a track record of success at sentencing hearings in all Los Angeles County criminal courthouses. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor crime, you are entitled to be sentenced after no more than 5 days after entering a guilty plea, no contest plea, or after being convicted.

Typically, most defendant's will waive this time for sentencing, which allows the court to impose the agreed upon sentence in cases where there was a plea agreement. This eliminates the need for an additional court date.

If you are entering into some type of diversion program, this waiver of time will allow you to return to court later after a specific amount of has passed to have your case dismissed because you successfully completed the terms set forth in the diversion.

It's critical to have experienced legal representation at a sentencing hearing who knows how to make effective arguments to the court for the most favorbale sentence. Our California criminal defense lawyers explain the sentencing hearing process below.

California Sentencing Hearing Process

Once you plead guilty, enter a no content plea, or you were convicted by judge or jury of a criminal offense, the judge will impose a sentence. As stated above, before you are actually given punishment, known as “judgment,” a sentencing hearing will take place where your attorney and the prosecution can be heard on what they believe is the appropriate penalty for the crime.

By law, the sentencing hearing has to occur within a specific amount of time. For a misdemeanor case, it's not less than 6 hours or 5 days from a guilty plea. However, in most cases, the sentence is imposed immediately. For a felony case under California law, it must be scheduled within 20 days of the guilty verdict or plea.

It should be noted the listed time frames can be extended in certain circumstances, such as waiting for a recommendation from the Los Angeles County Probation Department, while considering a motion for a new trial, or determining whether you are insane.

In cases where a sentencing hearing is not immediately after a guilty plea or conviction, the judge has the discretion to make you post or remain on bail to make sure you appear for sentencing later; keep you in custody; or take you into custody.

Your Rights at a California Sentencing Hearing

You have several legal rights during a sentencing hearing, but it doesn't include a right to cross examine or even confront witnesses, victims, or probation officer who prepared the recommendation to the court. You have the right to the following:

  • To be present at the sentencing hearing
  • To make a statement to the court (felony)
  • To be represented by a lawyer
  • To present your own evidence
  • To propose alternative sentence

In some cases, the judge could listen to testimony from victims or their family members at the sentencing hearing. On felony cases, the judge might even let the probation officer speak about the probation report they prepared for the hearing. Your criminal defense lawyer is not allowed to confront any witnesses at your sentencing hearing.

Felony Sentencing Hearing in California

During a felony sentencing hearing, the criminal court judge will make a determination of your sentence based on the specific circumstances of your case. In cases where you agreed to a plea bargain, you're your sentence is determined based on the terms of the agreement.

However, if you were convicted at trial, the judge has broad discretion to determine your sentence. Typically, the judge will consider if you are eligible for probation under California Rules of Court 4.414. The judge will also take into consideration the exact nature of your crime and prior criminal history to decide whether you are eligible for probation.

In some cases, the court might even rule you are eligible for a split sentence, meaning you will serve a portion of your sentence in custody before being released to serve the rest of your sentence on felony probation.

In cases where you are not eligible for probation, the judge will impose a sentence of one of the 3 terms (lower, middle, upper) in prison under California Penal Code Section 1170, but this would not apply to a sentence of life in a California state prison or death sentence.

Preparing Evidence

The felony sentencing process normally includes the court requesting a probation officer to prepare a report. They will closely examine your specific case and your prior criminal history.

Your criminal defense lawyer, under California Penal Code Section 1203, can also prepare a statement on your behalf to be considered by the judge, commonly known as a “statement of mitigation.” In basic terms, this statement provides details to the court, or “mitigating factors,” as to why you should be granted probation or a lesser sentence.

Clearly, it's in your best interest at this point to have a highly experienced criminal defense lawyer to prepared this report as the Los Angeles County prosecutor will also be given an opportunity to convince the court to give you a maximum sentence.

It's important to note that mitigating factors are facts or circumstances about your specific case for the judge to give consideration before making a decision on your sentence.  In other words, factors in your favor for a lesser sentence. The most common mitigating factors could include the following:

  • You don't have a prior criminal record
  • You showed genuine remorse for your behavior
  • Your behavior was provoked by someone else
  • You have a mental or physical illness

As stated above and on the flip side, the prosecutor will have the chance to show the court what is known as “aggravating factors,” which are facts and circumstances as to why the judge should impose a harsh sentence. Common aggravating factors include a long criminal history, violent offense causing great bodily injury, or use of a firearm in the commission of your crime.

Sentencing by Judge

Once the time arrives for the judge to announce a sentence, there are a variety of issues they must first state for the court record. The actual sentence that will be imposed for your crime is not some random number based on a personal whim, rather the statute controls the minimum or maximum sentence. As discussed above, there might are also aggravating factors that could add mandatory sentencing provisions they must follow.

In cases where a plea agreement has already been established, the judge will typically impose the sentence that was agreed to by both side. In cases where you were convicted at trial are when there will be a contested sentencing hearing where the judge hears from both sides in order to determine an appropriate sentence.

The judge will also need to decide whether to place you on probation or sentence you to jail time. As stated, there are many factors that they will consider, such as the specific facts of your underlying case and prior criminal record. Judges are required by law to give a reason for an imposed sentence.

In cases where you are convicted of two or more crimes at the same time, the judge then has to decide whether the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively. If they decide concurrently, then the sentences will run the same time, or simultaneous with the other sentence.

If they decide consecutively, then the sentences will have to be served back to back, meaning you would complete one sentence first then start the other sentence. If they don't specifically state your sentence will run consecutively, then it will it will be just considered to run concurrently with the other sentence. 

Consult with Our Law Firm for Help

At Eisner Gorin LLP, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers have over 60 years of combined experience and have a long record of success representing our clients at sentencing hearings.

We will work aggressively to obtain the best possible outcome on your case. We serve clients throughout Southern California, Los Angeles County, and the San Fernando Valley. Contact our law firm to review the details of your case. Eisner Gorin LLP 1875 Century Park E #705 Los Angeles, CA 90067 310-328-3776.

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About the Author

Alan Eisner

Alan Eisner  Van Nuys, California (818) 781-1570 (818) 788-5033 Email Me  Alan Eisner has practiced criminal law for over 28 years in Los Angeles County . Mr Eisner is a Certified Specialist in Criminal Law. (The California State Bar's Board of Legal Specialization has designated Mr. Eisner as a...

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