Lady of Justice holding scales, gavel in background.

What to Expect at a Sentencing Hearing

By David Hammond

A sentencing hearing is where the court orders the actual penalty for a defendant. It is one of the most important steps in the criminal justice process. Sometimes, the sentence will be the result of a pre-negotiated plea deal. Other times, the sentencing will rest solely in the hands of the judge. For most criminal offenses, the law establishes a range of punishment a defendant will face. Mitigating or aggravating circumstances will work to either increase or decrease the level of punishment received at a sentencing hearing.

What to Expect at a Sentencing Hearing

At the sentencing hearing, the guilt of the defendant is not at issue. It has already been established and the sole focus is on the level of punishment that should be imposed upon the defendant. The defense and the prosecution will both present arguments as to why the sentence should be increased or reduced. The judge will take into account factors such as the defendant’s criminal record, the details of the crime, the impact the crime had on the victim, and other relevant factors.

The first thing to happen at a sentencing hearing will be prosecution statements. The prosecution will make a sentencing recommendation to the judge. The recommendation will come with supporting reasons. The prosecution will usually reference evidence that was introduced at trial in order to support assertions pertaining to sentencing decisions.  In the typical scenario, the prosecution will argue for a more severe punishment while the defense will argue for a reduced sentence based on mitigating circumstances.

After the prosecution speaks, it will then be the defense team’s turn to present evidence and arguments as to why the sentence should be less severe. Mitigating circumstances such as a lack of criminal record or a defendant’s value to the community may work to achieve a less severe sentence. After the defense counsel addresses the court, the victim or the family of the victim may be granted the opportunity to speak. The defendant will also get an opportunity to speak to the judge towards the end of the hearing. The judge will consider all testimony before rendering a sentencing determination. A criminal sentence may include incarceration, fines, community service, probation, and more.

New York Criminal Defense Attorneys

A defendant’s sentencing hearing will have a huge impact on his or her life. The hearing is an opportunity to fight for a reduced sentence. With the right attorney, this can mean avoiding jail in favor of probation, it can mean community service over incarceration, or it can mean lower fines. There is a lot on the line at a sentencing hearing. Having an attorney by your side that will advocate on your behalf is critical at a sentencing hearing. At CDH Law, our dedicated team of criminal defense attorneys is committed to representing and advocating on behalf of our clients. Contact us today.


About the Author
David is a former military prosecutor and defense lawyer with over a decade of experience fighting for service members and their families. He served nine years and two combat tours as an active duty US Army officer, then joined the Reserves and settled down in Syracuse to be near family. Now representing people across Central New York charged with serious felonies, misdemeanors, DWIs, and traffic offenses, he puts the same level of commitment into his civilian law practice. If you have any questions regarding this article, you can contact David here.