If you plead guilty to or get convicted of a felony, the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines will likely have a significant impact on the fines, jail time, and other penalties you receive. The sentencing guidelines include worksheets for determining the sentences for most felony offenses. These worksheets are part of your presentence report, which will also include information about your family, education, employment, and other relevant aspects of your background. Once convicted, a probation officer will prepare the sentencing report and calculate your sentence range for the judge to consider at the sentencing hearing.
Since negotiating plea agreements and reduced charges are such a large part of how criminal cases are resolved, this makes sentencing a crucial stage, during which defense lawyers can help minimize the penalties. Your lawyer’s advocacy skills can sway the judge to hand down a lenient sentence after a conviction, or help ensure you get the best out of a plea agreement. To learn more about how a Roanoke criminal defense lawyer can impact your sentence, call Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico today at (540) 343-9349 for a consultation.
What Is the Purpose of the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines?
The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission created the sentencing guidelines to ensure that similarly, situated offenders who commit similar crimes receive comparable sentences. The sentence ranges provided for within the Virginia Code are quite large, allowing judges significant leeway in deciding how many years a convict should spend behind bars. The guidelines–which are not mandatory–help judges systematically work through the factors that might influence a sentence, the goal being to improve consistency.
The Virginia guidelines aren’t only for helping judges hand down consistent sentences, however. They also require probation officers to enter offense, offender, and sentencing information into a worksheet that provides the Virginia Sentencing Commission with sentencing data from around the Commonwealth. This enables the authorities to tweak penal policies to better serve the goals of rehabilitation, deterrence, and punishment in the criminal justice system.
How Will the Judge Determine my Sentence Under the Guidelines?
According to Virginia Code 19.2-298.01, the judge tasked with determining your sentence for a felony must consider the sentencing guidelines worksheet. When judges decided to hand down a sentence that is not within the range recommended by the guidelines, they must provide an explanation. But it is likely your sentence will end up in the guideline ranges, as Virginia judges tend to comply with them in around 80% of cases.
In preparing your pre-sentence report for the judge, a probation officer will determine your range by working through several steps provided for your offense. At each step, points will accumulate, which will determine your sentence length. For example, if you’ve been convicted of burglary, the probation officer will consider the following:
- The primary offense–The more serious the offense, the more points you will have from the start. In the context of burglary, you will get more points if the crime was committed at night, when people were present in the house, or if you used a deadly weapon.
- Additional offenses–If you are being charged with other offenses, the probation officer will consider those offenses as well. If your burglary included an assault, for example, this will add points to your case.
- Mandatory minimums–If any of the crimes of which you’ve been convicted (whether primary or second offenses) involve a mandatory minimum sentence, you will get more points.
- Type of weapon used–If the prosecutor proved that you used a knife, firearm, or even a simulated weapon, the probation officer will add more points.
- Criminal history–In this section, the probation officer will add points depending on the number of felony, misdemeanor, or juvenile convictions you’ve received. Your sentence will also be affected if you’ve been on probation, released on parole, or served time in jail for an offense. Finally, the probation officer will determine whether you committed the new offense while you were on parole or probation, and add more points if necessary.
Using a grid, the probation officer will determine a sentencing zone for you based on the amount of points you accumulated. This gives the judge a basic idea of how to sentence you–but depending on your lawyer’s skills and the impression you’ve made to the judge, you could receive any sentence within the offense’s statutory limits. Your case may also involve one of the 80 or so offenses for which there are mandatory minimums in Virginia, including many DUI, drug, firearm, sex, and assault crimes.
In addition to or instead of fines and jail time, the judge may also sentence you to:
- Day reporting
- Substance abuse treatment
- Diversionary detention program aimed at rehabilitation of youthful offenders
- Drug court
- Restitution of victims
How a Roanoke Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
In Virginia, there is no possibility of parole. Once you receive your sentence, you must serve all of it unless you successfully appeal your conviction. This means that the sentencing stage of your case is especially important–there will probably be no other opportunity to minimize your penalties. For this reason, it’s essential that you have a Virginia criminal defense lawyer by your side who knows how to advocate for defendants at the sentencing stage, and who understands what judges consider when determining sentences.
At Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico, we have built our reputation on our ability to optimize case outcomes for our clients. From initial hearings, to pretrial motions, to the trial itself and then sentencing, we advocate forcefully on behalf of our clients at every stage of the criminal justice process. If you’ve been charged with a crime, or if you’ve been convicted and you have an upcoming sentencing hearing, we can help.
Call us today at (540) 343-9349to schedule a consultation.