This is the final installment of a six-part series on what to expect in California if you face felony criminal charges. Take a look at our past posts in the series and get to know the other steps of the felony arrest in California process.
The prior posts are:
- Step One: Pre-Arrest Investigation
- Step Two: Arrest
- Step Three: Arraignment and Bail
- Step Four: Pretrial Proceedings
- Step Five: Trial
The final step of the felony arrest process in California is sentencing. This is by far the most nerve-wracking time for people accused of crimes. By now, you have met the judge and prosecutors on your case, your attorney has kept you informed of the developments and challenges in your case, and you also have a basic understanding of maximum punishments and fines that can be assessed. What is missing, of course, is the judge’s decision.
Step 6: Sentencing
Whether you reach the sentencing phase by plea or after trial, every person charged with a felony in California will be sentenced or have punishment imposed. A sentencing hearing occurs after the trial and before the judge issues his or her sentencing decision. Some judges will provide the accused with a sentencing commitment, which is a preview of the judge’s sentencing decision; others wait until after the sentencing hearing to communicate their decision.
At the sentencing hearing, each side is afforded an opportunity to present and explain what type of sentence or sentence considerations the judge should consider when assessing punishment in the case. From a defense perspective, mitigating circumstances, prior positive community involvement, and lenient treatment are advocated. From the prosecution’s perspective, victim impact statements and harsher penalties are presented for the judge’s consideration.
After hearing both sides, the judge may sentence the criminal defendant to prison for a fixed time-period, a life sentence, or death in capital punishment cases. Other forms of permissible punishment include the assessment of fines, penalties and surcharges, and the assessment of conditions, like parole or mandatory alcohol and drug treatment. Especially in sexual assault matters, the accused person may be required to register in Sexual Offender Registries and have conditions imposed on where they may live after serving time.
Three Strikes Law
For individuals convicted of two or more violent crimes or serious felonies, a third felony conviction will automatically trigger the three strikes law. The three strikes law compels the judge to impose a life sentence, removing all other punishment options at the sentencing phase regardless of any mitigating circumstances.
A death sentence is the most severe punishment for someone charged with a felony. According to the Los Angeles Times, the California Supreme Court in August 2017 kept in place a measure passed by voters to speed up executions. Due to delays and legal challenges, the state of California has not executed a prisoner in a decade. Continue reading