How California Sentencing Guidelines Determine Penalties for Crimes
Many people facing criminal charges have one thought at the front of their mind: will the judge go easy on me or will I get a harsh sentence? This is a crucial question because sentencing for a California criminal conviction can include incarceration, probation, fines, victim restitution, loss of certain rights, a criminal background, and more. If you are wondering if the judge will go easy on you, here is some basic information about California sentencing guidelines and what judges use to determine how to sentence criminal defendants.
Factors in Sentencing
When sentencing criminal defendants, California judges use many factors to set the severity of the penalties. They may use California sentencing guidelines and consider such elements as:
- The facts and circumstances of the offense
If there are any aggravating factors, you could get a harsher sentence. For example, if you caused an accident while driving under the influence and injured someone, don't expect an easy sentence. On the other hand, if you had committed an act of domestic violence but there was an element of self-defense, the judge might take that into consideration when sentencing you.
- The defendant's prior criminal history
The judge is unlikely to go easy on you if you have prior criminal convictions. In some cases, the judge is required to issue a harsher sentence on repeat offenders, so this factor plays a big role.
- How the offense will be charged
Some crimes can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies. These are called wobbler crimes. Naturally, misdemeanor charges come with easier sentences, typically up to one year in jail and/or a fine. Felony crimes are punishable by prison time and sometimes a fine.
These are just a few of the factors can affect whether a judge goes easy on you when issuing a sentence.
Will I Get an Easy Sentence?
If you are hoping you'll get an easy sentence, you are not alone. Many people are surprised when they learn of the penalties they could face for a one-time mistake. Fortunately, the potential penalties and the California sentencing guidelines that dictate them are somewhat flexible. Judges are given quite a bit of discretion when sentencing defendants. Indeed, some argue they are given too much. For example, many misdemeanors can come with up to one year of jail time. First-time offenders, however, often get their entire jail sentence suspended, meaning they serve no time in jail.
The good news is their discretion can potentially work in your favor, resulting in an easier sentence. But judges can't go easy on everyone, so let's look at a few factors that can lessen the blow of your sentence.
Your Past Will Play a Role
One of the more important factor judges consider when sentencing is the defendants' prior criminal histories. If you have a squeaky clean record and this was a first-time offense, the judge is much more likely to go easy on you. Sometimes first offenses are dismissed altogether. Even if you have an offense on your criminal record, a good attorney might be able to get past offenses reduced or stricken so they don't count against you. In this case, the judge would consider your current offense as a first-time offense and sentence you accordingly.
If successful, it would be as if you had a clean slate, which can dramatically affect your sentence. If you have any prior offenses, you should absolutely speak with a California criminal defense attorney about the possibility of using this strategy.
California sentencing guidelines typically override other factors. Many California offenses have statutory minimum and maximum penalties. These guidelines aren't written in stone, but they do serve to guide judges in issuing sentences according to what is already deemed a reasonable punishment.
Some criminal statutes also have mandatory punishments, meaning the judge must issue certain penalties no matter what. California DUIs are an example of an offense that comes with mandatory penalties. If you are facing charges for an offense with mandatory punishments, you need to be working closely with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Just because you are facing mandatory punishments does not mean all hope is lost. In some cases, a good attorney can get your charges reduced to an offense without mandatory penalties.
Speaking with an attorney is the only way you can learn about all your options for getting an easy sentence. A good California criminal defense attorney can explain the penalties the court may impose and your options for getting a more favorable outcome like a reduced sentence. A Visalia area criminal defense attorney can also provide peace of mind and explain what the typical sentence is for an offense similar to yours.
Have you been arrested and are facing criminal charges? Visalia area criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens can help you get the outcome you deserve. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Mr. Martens has handled thousands of cases and has taken over 50 to trial. Attorney Christopher Martens has the skills and knowledge needed to defend your rights. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide expert criminal defense counsel. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.