Sentencing in Virginia Criminal Cases

Sentencing in Virginia criminal cases works in many different ways. The sentencing process plays a crucial role in the outcome and consequences of a defendant’s criminal case. It is important for the defendant to have a trustworthy Virginia criminal defense attorney who can make a strong argument for lessening or mitigating the penalties of conviction

Who Decides Sentencing in Virginia Criminal Cases

In Virginia, the decision on sentencing is made by the finder of fact in a person’s case. At the general district court level, which is where misdemeanors and traffic tickets are heard, the judge is responsible for imposing the sentence on convicted defendants. There are various ways of asking the judge to withhold their imposition of a sentence; to wait on imposing the sentence; or ultimately to dismiss a case if a defendant completes community service or any other requirements by the court, but it’s always up to the judge to decide the ultimate outcome of a case.

Sentencing at the Circuit Court Level

At the Circuit Court level, it depends on whether or not the trial was a bench trial, where a judge listens to the evidence and then makes a determination, or a jury trial. In Virginia, whoever decides a case (judge or jury), also decides the sentence, so in a jury trial in Circuit Court, that same jury will also determine the sentence.

When Sentencing Occurs

Sentencing by a judge may happen in many different ways. It can happen on the date of the trial; it can happen a few months out, after the person completes certain requirements by the court; or it could happen a year later, if the person maintains a general good behavior, meaning they don’t incur any additional charges during that year. It can also occur after a person completes traffic school. There are various ways a person’s sentencing can be accomplished, but it is always going to be done by a judge at the general district court level, and by a jury or a judge at the Circuit Court level.

Information Presented During Sentencing

Sentencing in Virginia criminal cases is not the same as a trial. During a trial there are various strict rules on what can and cannot be introduced as evidence brought forth on a person’s behalf in front of the judge. Sentencing is the time for the person’s attorney to present any information that could be relevant to convince the judge that there should be a more lenient sentence given to the person. A lot of the information prepared by a Virginia criminal defense attorneys includes information about their education, family, and background. Sometimes this could include any kind of calls they have made, either professional or personal.

This could include any treatments that a person was participating in, or volunteer work they have done. This could certainly include impact statements from their family members about how a conviction or how a certain punishment will affect their lives as well. An experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney can determine what information is most likely to have a positive effect on a person’s sentencing.

Aggravating Factors

Some aggravating factors that can have an impact on sentencing in a Virginia criminal case are other charges related to the case. The facts of the case can aggravate the sentence that would normally be given in a person’s case. For example, a more violent case; significant injuries; significant financial losses to the victims; or really any kind of victim impact statements could be aggravating factors in a person’s sentencing. Additionally, if the person has a significant criminal history record, that can be considered an aggravating factor in their sentencing as well.

Mitigating Factors

Some mitigating factors that can have an impact on sentencing  in Virginia criminal cases include things such as, family history; facts about childhood; and any relevant information on a personal level that the Virginia criminal defense attorney feels might influence the judge or jury to have leniency on the client.

Other mitigating factors can include things such as a person’s education; their employment history; continued employment or future employment prospects; and any kind of financial or emotional responsibility the person might have to the people in their lives that provides a reason to avoid incarceration, or to reduce jail time so that the person is able to continue to provide for these individuals. Mental health history; mental illness history; substance and drug abuse history and any treatments associated with that; the ability to continue to follow any kind of court-imposed supervision; and the ability to continue to be successful in things like probation can affect sentencing in a positive way.

Benefit of An Attorney

Some ways a Virginia area criminal defense attorney can help advocate for their client’s interest during the sentencing phase of a Virginia criminal case are by providing a clear and concise argument for the judge or jury as to why they should treat this case differently than other cases they receive with similar facts or conviction. It is really important that an attorney advocates for their client in a way that sets them apart, and tells the judge or jury this will not happen again, and the reasons why that is the case.

The sentencing phase is one of the most important phases of an individual’s case because that is the time that the attorney really needs to make an impassioned plea to the judge or jury to show how a sentence would affect their client’s life and why they should deviate from the norm in order to give the client a lesser sentence. As a result, it is very important to have a Virginia criminal defense attorney who can clearly state the reasons why there should be a deviation and convince the judge or the jury to depart from standard precedent.