5. Sentencing

If a defendant pleads guilty or no contest, or a jury finds them guilty, then the judge decides what penalties or punishments they face. This is called sentencing. A judge will address victim compensation, called restitution.


How a judge decides on a sentence

Sentencing can be a complex area of law, especially for felony convictions. The lawyers in the case can explain what possible sentences could be and also what's typical in certain types of cases.

If there was a plea agreement

The judge will typically give the defendant the sentence that was agreed to by the defendant and prosecutor. If not, the agreement typically falls apart and the defendant can take away their guilty plea.

If there was not a plea agreement

The judge must decide on a sentence. Judges have legal guidelines, called sentencing guidelines, to help them decide on a sentence. There are different guidelines for misdemeanors and felonies.

Sentencing laws also cover other situations, like how sentencing works if the person is convicted of multiple crimes or has certain prior convictions. Other factors, like if the crime involved the use of a weapon or force, can also lengthen a sentence. 

To decide the sentence, the judge considers the facts in the case, the sentencing guidelines, and other sentencing laws. If either side wants, they can argue what sentence a judge should give at a sentencing hearing.

Sentencing hearings

Both sides have a right to a sentencing hearing. These are more common in felony cases, where the potential punishment is much greater.

At a sentencing hearing, both sides can argue how they think the judge should apply the sentencing laws and what the appropriate sentence should be. In a felony case, a probation officer will generally write a report with a recommended sentence. Victims and the defendant can also make statements.

Victims have the right to be present at a sentencing hearing and to give a victim impact statement. They could do this in court. They can also give it to the probation officer, who will include the information in their report for the judge. Find out more about victim impact statements in Victims' Rights in California.

Victim compensation

When the defendant is sentenced, the judge will also make an order about victim compensation. This is called restitution. The purpose of restitution is to compensate a victim for any financial loss related to the crime. For example, if they had money stolen or property damaged. It also includes things like medical bills or the cost of mental health counseling. The judge will order the defendant to pay these costs.

Victims can give the district attorney, probation department, or victim advocate information about and proof of their costs. For example, copies of bills or receipts. Find out more about restitution in Victims' Rights in California.

What's next?

Typically after sentencing, the case is done. In some cases, the defendant may choose to appeal the judge or jury's decision, or even the sentence. There are strict deadlines for appealing.

After a defendant serves a sentence, in some cases, they may be able to "clean their record". 

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