Once a criminal defendant in a Los Angeles criminal court is convicted of one or more crimes, they will face sentencing. A sentencing hearing is a court proceeding where the judge imposes penalties on a defendant who was convicted of a crime.
This hearing is a crucial part of the criminal court process and occurs after the defendant pleaded guilty or no contest, or was found guilty at a bench or jury trial. The defendant's criminal lawyer and the prosecutor can present relevant evidence and arguments to the judge at the sentencing hearing.
In Los Angeles criminal courts, there are many important issues which are addressed at the sentencing hearing. Accordingly, representation by effective defense counsel at this important proceeding is crucial for maximizing the chances of a positive outcome.
Sentencing could occur at the time defendant pleads guilty or no contest or after a guilty verdict at trial, or the hearing might be set for a later date.
A defendant who was convicted of a misdemeanor is entitled to be sentenced no more than five days after pleading guilty or no contest or being convicted. However, in most cases, defendants waive the time for sentencing, which allows the court impose a sentence that was agreed in a plea bargain.
The criminal defense attorney will present “mitigating” information on why the defendant should receive minimal penalties. On the other side, the prosecutor will present “aggravating” information on why defendant should receive a harsh sentence.
To give readers more useful information about sentencing hearings, our California criminal defense lawyers are providing a review below.
How a Los Angeles Sentencing Hearing Works
At the time of sentencing, the judge reads the terms of the sentence into the court record. Defendants have the right to be present at their sentencing hearing, but their lawyer could appear on their behalf if the judge allows it.
California Penal Code mandates when a judge must conduct a sentencing hearing. A misdemeanor sentence must be imposed not less than six hours or over five days after a guilty plea, no contest plea, or a conviction, unless defendant waives time. It's worth nothing that most people convicted of a misdemeanor are sentenced immediately.
It should be noted, however, there are some circumstances where these this time frame can be extended, such as waiting for a recommendation from the probation department.
A felony sentence has to be scheduled within 20 days of the guilty plea or verdict at trial, but the court is allowed to extend this date for up to ten days.
If the sentencing hearing is not held immediately, the judge has the option to keep defendant in jail, order them into custody if not in jail, or require them to post bail to make sure they will return to court. This decision is at the judge's discretion.
Defendant's Rights at a Sentencing Hearing
Like all Los Angeles criminal court proceedings, the defendant has specific rights at their sentencing hearing, including the following:
- Right to be represented by a lawyer
- Right to present evidence
- Right to be present at sentencing
- Right to offer alternative sentence
A defendant also has the right to being informed about the criminal charges they are facing before entering a plea. It should be noted there is no right to cross examine victims or witnesses at a sentencing hearing.
Probationary or Custodial Sentences
The judge will have to determine whether or not to place the defendant on probation or to simply impose jail or prison as an executed sentence.
The judge will consider factors such as the defendant's criminal history and the particular facts of the underlying case when deciding what sentence to impose. To ensure that a judge does not abuse their discretion when imposing the sentence, California law requires that the judge state the reason for whatever sentence is entered.
In Los Angeles criminal courts, sentencing is primarily divided into either probationary sentences or custodial sentences. Most misdemeanor offenses will result in the judge imposing misdemeanor probation.
To make matters slightly more confusing, county jail can often be imposed as a condition of probation. However, in general, the major determination which a judge will make in sentencing is whether to impose imprisonment or to grant probation with various terms and conditions. Misdemeanor crimes are typically punishable by up to six months or one year in a county jail and a fine.
In felony cases, California uses a determinate sentencing system for most crimes. This takes the form or a range of three time periods which represent the low term, the mid-term, and the high term for a given offense.
This system was enacted in response to the perception that state court judges were exercising too much discretion and imposing sentences for similar conduct which varied substantially from defendant to defendant.
A typical range associated with a felony offense might be 16 months, two years, and three years, or two years, three years, and four years. When sentencing the defendant to prison, the court must select from one of the three numbers associated with the count of conviction.
The court cannot, for example, select 18 months imprisonment for a crime which has a statutory range of 16 months, 2 years, or three years. Unless the judge specifies that the sentence will run consecutively, it will run concurrently.
When granting probation, the sentencing court's discretion is substantially greater. The court can impose a wide range of conditions or combinations of conditions which are directed at punishing the defendant, providing opportunities for rehabilitation, and deterring future conduct by the defendant and others.
In most misdemeanor cases, probation is the outcome imposed at the sentencing hearing. Felony probation is also granted in many felony cases, particularly for non-violent offenses committed by first-time offenders.
Probation conditions could include attendance of counseling or educational classes, performance of community service or labor hours, payment of fines and fees, or other conditions.
If you or a family member is facing sentencing in a Los Angeles criminal court, contact our experienced team of criminal defense attorneys for a consultation.
We provide expert advocacy based on extensive experience practicing before sentencing courts to advocate for the most lenient punishment possible for our client's post-conviction. Effective advocacy is the best way to maximize the chances of the best outcome at sentencing.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067 Contact our firm to review the details of your case at (310) 328-3776.