Sentencing hearings are often the “lesser-known” portions of a criminal trial. However, a sentencing hearing carries significant weight for any party directly involved in a case. In general, most people are aware of the criminal trial process where a jury hears a case, disappears to make their decision, and comes back to the courtroom to let their decision be known. However, a sentencing hearing that occurs after a defendant pleads guilty or is convicted of a crime is the last phase of the process before punishment is rendered.
What is a sentence in hearing?
Anytime a person pleads guilty or is convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania, they have to receive a sentence. Sentencing in the Commonwealth varies depending on the type of crime committed, namely, whether the crime is a misdemeanor or a felony offense. There are also various levels of misdemeanor or felony offenses that can affect the overall punishment.
Often, the sentencing of a defendant is left to the judge’s discretion. However, Pennsylvania law requires mandatory minimum sentences for some types of convictions.
A sentencing hearing takes place in an open court, similar to the trial process. When this occurs, the district attorney, the defendant, as well as the defendant’s attorney will all be present as the judge reviews the information in the case in order to determine the length and disposition of the sentence.
What happens at a sentencing hearing?
During the sentencing hearing, it is the responsibility of the trial judge to sentence the person convicted (or the person who pled guilty) in accordance with the law. However, a judge will typically also have a wide array of sentencing alternatives that they can use at their discretion. If there is not a mandatory minimum involved (per PA statute), then a judge could order a defendant to serve probation, electronic home monitoring, restitution for a victim, community service, or enrollment in a drug or alcohol treatment program.
However, as we mentioned, the judge’s hands may be tied if there are mandatory minimums required for the conviction in question. There may also be maximum sentences in place that a judge cannot exceed. The various degrees of crimes that we mentioned all come with a maximum number of years that a person can serve as well as a maximum fine associated with the crime.
The following maximums apply in Pennsylvania:
- First-degree felony – 20 years and a $25,000 fine
- Second-degree felony – 10 years and a $25,000 fine
- Third-degree felony – 7 years and a $15,000 fine
- First-degree misdemeanor – 5 years and a $10,000 fine
- Second-degree misdemeanor – 2 years and a $5,000 fine
- Third-degree misdemeanor – 1 year and a $2,500 fine
- Summary offense – 90 days jail time and a $300 fine
What considerations go into sentencing?
A person’s sentencing will be based on two factors:
- The seriousness of the offense (called the Offense Gravity Score)
- The convicted person’s prior criminal record (called the Prior Record Score)
When deciding what sentence to impose, a judge will look at the sentencing guideline and any presentencing report provided to them. This will contain background information about the defendant, including their criminal record, time spent in custody while awaiting trial, and any medical or psychiatric reports. The judge will also permit statements to be made in court by prosecutors, the defense attorney, and the victims before making a decision.
At Ciccarelli Law Offices, our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense lawyers are both passionate in what they do and compassionate in their treatment of their clients. For a free case evaluation contact us at (610) 692-8700 or toll free at (877) 529-2422.