Loudoun County Sentencing and Penalties
If you were arrested for a criminal offense, you might be overwhelmed by each step of the ensuing legal process and unsure of how to proceed with your defense. However, a well-versed lawyer could help to explain Loudoun County sentencing and penalties.
By understanding the charges you face, you could have help assessing your legal circumstances and deciding how to proceed. A skilled attorney could then guide you through each step fo the ensuing process.
The Sentencing Process In Loudoun County
Simply put, sentencing comes after a determination of guilt, or after a plea agreement when the parties reach a satisfactory compromise in a criminal case. Depending on the nature of a criminal case, this could occur in any of the three courts in the Loudoun County Courthouse Complex.
If someone is being sentenced for a misdemeanor or traffic matter, for example, their sentencing could occur in the Loudoun County General District Court. If the same misdemeanor involves a family member, child, or other protected party, however, the sentencing may occur in the Loudoun County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
Furthermore, if someone is being sentenced on a felony matter or a misdemeanor appeal, their sentencing occurs in the Loudoun County Circuit Court and is done by a judge, through a plea agreement, or by a jury after a trial. Virginia is one of the few states in which juries recommend sentencing when they hear the facts of guilt or innocence after a trial. Consequently, this makes both phases of the trial extremely important.
How Are Sentences Decided in Loudoun County?
Sentencing decisions are made by the judge presiding over the docket on any given day. Essentially, a general district court judge presides over the docket in general district court. In circuit court, however, the presiding judge is a circuit court judge.
Even if a case is subject to a jury trial—in which the jury makes the sentencing recommendation—the judge still ratifies the sentence and issues the final sentencing order.
Sentencing for Misdemeanors
In misdemeanor cases, sentencing may be relatively informal. This is because the judge has likely heard most of the evidence during the guilt or innocence phase, before making a determination in the case. If the misdemeanor case is an agreement between the Commonwealth and the defendant regarding the sentencing, the judge reviews the sentence to make sure it is legal and consistent with the court’s interpretation of the facts. Naturally, the judge makes sure the defendant understands the sentence before imposing it.
This commonly occurs in cases where defense attorney and prosecutor reach a satisfactory conclusion, and the court wants to make sure the defendant who signed the agreement understands what they are signing, as well as what is expected of them. To this end, the judge will likely have an additional oral discussion with the person to make sure they understand it is their decision to enter the plea agreement. Before imposing the sentence, the judge usually ensures that the individual understands the specific terms or waivers that occurred through the plea agreement, including but not limited to the:
- Waiver of the right to a trial
- Waiver of the right to call and cross-examine witnesses
- Waiver of the right to appeal
- Understanding of the requested sentence
When a misdemeanor is the subject of a trial, the judge may hear additional evidence that was not offered during the body of the trial, as well as additional arguments from both sides. Typically, in a misdemeanor sentencing phase, the information presented is minimal, because much of it likely came out during the guilt phase. However, a judge might have questions and may listen to recommendations, as well as review criminal records, driving history, and restitution statements.
Penalties for Misdemeanor Offenses
If someone is charged with a misdemeanor in Loudoun County, the most serious punishment they could face is a sentence of up to 12 months in jail, as well as a fine of up to $2,500. This is the maximum punishment by law for a Class 1 misdemeanor, which has a punishment range of zero days in jail and no fine, up to the above-listed penalties.
In felony cases, the sentencing event is much more formal than for a misdemeanor offense. For example, when a felony case is subject to a plea agreement, there might be Virginia sentencing guidelines. Furthermore, pre-sentence recommendations and other evaluations may be available to the court. The pre-sentence report (PSR) is prepared by the local District 25 Probation and Parole Office to assist the court in understanding the person being sentenced.
The PSR may be accompanied by the Virginia sentencing guidelines, if they are appropriate for a felony offense. These guidelines are a non-binding recommendation made by the Virginia Sentencing Commission to equalize sentences throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as to make sure that defendants charged with comparable offenses receive similar punishments—whether they are in Loudoun, Richmond, Chesapeake, or Roanoke.
When reviewing sentencing guidelines, the courts may arrange a punishment at the high end, low end, or midpoint of a charge. However, the court may choose to deviate upwards or downwards from the recommended charge proposed by the guidelines, depending on the specific facts of a case. For example, if the sentencing is done by a jury, there might not be the same consideration of guidelines and the pre-sentence reports. The jury may, instead, hear the sentencing evidence and make a recommendation based off of that.
In Virginia, after a jury makes a sentencing recommendation—no matter how—the case is sent to a formal sentencing event, where a judge ratifies or amends the jury’s sentence based on the additional evidence or arguments. In Virginia, a judge is not permitted to increase the sentence recommended by a jury, but is permitted to decrease or suspend the time imposed by a jury.
Felony Punishments in Loudoun County
In Virginia, there are numerous degrees of punishments that a person can receive for a felony charge. For example, a Class 6 felony is punishable by one to five years in prison, or up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500. However, a conviction for a higher degree of felony could result in up to life in prison, as well as the potential for capital punishment.
What Happens if a Person Cannot Pay a Fine?
If someone is charged with an offense and part of their punishment involves a fine, but they do not have the financial resources to pay, they can ask the court for a payment plan or a time to pay by. The court usually grants the person time to pay, including possible extension if they make a good faith effort to pay their fines and costs.
They might also make motions to the court to request community service in lieu of monetary payments. Through this, their community service is credited at a statutory rate. Usually, if the individual is not employed but has time, they may perform community service as an option instead of paying the fines.
Aggravating Factors During Sentencing
When someone is being considered for a sentencing event, an attorney will talk to their client about aggravating and mitigating factors of a charge. Essentially, aggravating factors tend to make the sentence higher than the norm—or higher than the guidelines if the charge is a felony—or on the high end of the range of punishment permitted by the statutes. Some of these factors might include:
- Prior criminal history—for example, a prior offense of the same nature may be considered significant
- Age of the individual—especially middle-aged individuals, who should know better in the eyes of the law
- The personal injuries, property losses, or irreparable damages to the community that were involved—this is true for both misdemeanor and felony cases
- Acts that are offensive to the publish interest or to the common norms of society—this might include cases of abuse, those involving children, or involving child pornography
- The status of the defendant—if the person is elderly, a child, or someone who is prone to be taken advantage of
- The nature of the offense
The Potential For a Criminal Sentence to be Lessened
Mitigating factors are, quite simply, the opposite of any aggravations to a charge. These might include:
- Age—if someone is extremely young, they might be easily influenced by their peers or an older person
- Lack of criminal history
- Support in the community
- Strong family ties
- A post-release plan of action to change conduct and avoid exposure to the court
- A lack of damage to persons or property
- Participating in community service
- Counseling and professional intervention and treatment
An additional factor that might help to alleviate a charge is if the individual makes amends with the defendant, through contact and financial reparation, such as restitution. Furthermore, the specific type of conduct that is alleged within a statutory violation might come into play.
For example, if someone is charged with a first-offense grand larceny for a small sum of money, this might lead to a less severe punishment than for a first-offense of the same crime, if the amount of money taken was much greater.
The Impact of a Criminal Sentence on Immigration Status
If someone’s status in the United States is anything other than a U.S. citizen and they are charged with a criminal offense, it might be in their best interests to contact an experienced immigration attorney. A legal professional who understands the impact of criminal convictions, deferred findings, and other options, as well as how those elements might affect their immigration status—both presently and in the future—might help to clarify their legal standing and how to best proceed.
Criminal offenses that do not involve one’s liberty at present might affect their immigration status. For example, someone may receive a drug conviction that does not send them to jail, but has a negative impact on their immigration status—this is the same for repeat offenders and for crimes of moral turpitude.
When someone’s immigration status is undocumented, or if they are a green card holder, visa holder, or permanent resident, they should talk to a knowledgeable attorney to see how a criminal charge affects immigration consequences.
How an Attorney Might Help During the Sentencing Phase
If you were charged with a criminal offense, reaching out to a lawyer as soon as possible might be essential. Often, an attorney’s advocacy for their client during the course of criminal representation is most apparent during the sentencing phase.
Here, an attorney has the opportunity to tell the judge all of the reasons why their client should receive the least amount of punishment before a sentencing decision is made. A legal professional may, for example, encourage the judge to consider that all terms available to the court in the client’s favor should be followed. To learn more about how a lawyer might help your case, call today.