What Happens After Conviction
After an offender is convicted, the judge imposes a sentence within limits set by lawmakers. A judge has some choices, but the criminal code and case law set out the shortest and longest possible sentences, aggravating and mitigating factors that the judge must consider, and guidance about acceptable sentences.
Sentencing hearings are usually short. Attorneys’ may bring in evidence and witnesses at the hearing. The defense attorney may speak for the offender, and may note factors that the judge could use to lower the sentence. The prosecutor gives the government’s position, which may include reasons why the judge should lengthen the sentence or set certain conditions.
Victim Impact Statement.The victim will be contacted and asked if they would like to give a victim impact statement. This statement goes to the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the judge. The statement lets the victim tell the judge about the different kinds of injuries caused by the crime. The victim can ask for restitution and for conditions of probation that will help to protect the victim and any others affected by the crime. Besides writing a statement, the victim has a right to speak at the sentencing hearing. A victim who wishes to do so should contact the prosecuting attorney or victim advocate.
The court process itself may help some victims with their healing process, and may bring a sense of satisfaction or completion. Not all victims experience this, however, even when they choose to participate by making statements.
Sentences. Sentences can have several parts: jail time, suspended time, probation with conditions and fines. Jail sentences may range from no time in jail to more than 99 years, depending upon the offense, the history of the offender and many other factors set out in the law. At the time of sentencing, an offender receives credit for any jail time he or she served before the trial and sentencing. Offenders are sentenced by the court to probation, county jail or state prison.
Probation and parole are different legally, but similar in many ways. They refer to periods after the offender is convicted during which the offender is not in jail, but still must live under conditions that the judge or Parole Board decides. These conditions can include making restitution to the victim, getting assessment or treatment for substance abuse problems, attending batterer intervention classes, not drinking or abusing drugs (and getting tested to assure this), getting a job or being financially responsible, or staying away from the victim or from certain places or people. Also, the offender must not break any laws.
If the crime caused expenses such as property damage, lost wages or medical expenses, the judge may order the offender to pay restitution to the victims and others. When victims ask for restitution it is important that they have good records of their losses and receipts for their expenses. The judge may hold a hearing to decide the amount of restitution. Restitution in criminal cases can repay victims only for their actual monetary expenses or losses. To recover for other losses, such as pain and suffering or loss of companionship, victims or others must file a separate civil law suit against the defendant.
Appeal and Post Conviction Process
Offenders convicted at trial have the right to one appeal. The defense tells the appellate court in writing about the parts of a case where mistakes may have occurred. Some reasons defendants may appeal include their belief that their arrest was improper, that the judge admitted evidence that should not have been admitted, or that the judge gave improper instructions to the jury. Some offenders also appeal the length of their sentences. The prosecution responds in writing to the offender’s arguments. These written arguments (called “briefs”), and a transcript or tape of the trial, go to the appellate court for review. No one gives new evidence or testimony, but the court may hold a hearing to listen to the attorneys for both sides explain their arguments.
The appellate court may either affirm (agree with) or overturn the conviction. It also may decide that the sentence is incorrect for some reason and tell the trial court what guidelines to follow to re-sentence the offender. If the court overturns the conviction, the prosecutor sometimes files the charges against the defendant again. The state Supreme Court may review cases after the court of appeals has made a decision.
An offender also may ask the trial court judge to change the sentence or overturn the conviction. The offender may argue that the defense attorney was not effective, that new evidence has been found, or that the judge did not understand the law. Sometimes offenders give new evidence or testimony to support a request for this type of relief.
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