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Why Sentencing is the Hardest Part of Criminal Defense

If you’re arrested for a crime, you’re probably wondering how much jail time you could be facing. You hear all the time in news reports and movies about a person facing up to “life in prison.” In reality, figuring out a potential sentence for your crime is more difficult than you think.unnamed-300x199.jpg

How Does Sentencing Work in California? (PC 1170)

When trying to determine how sentencing works, the first place to look is California Penal Code Section 1170. This law is amended regularly, but it states that the “general objectives” of sentencing are to:

  • Protect society
  • Punish the convicted criminal
  • Encourage the criminal to lead a law-abiding life in the future
  • Deter others from committing crimes; and
  • Secure restitution for the victims of the crime

Misdemeanor vs Felony Sentencing

Misdemeanor sentencing is much easier to understand than felony sentencing. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, the maximum amount of time you could face in jail is always less than one year. Some crimes carry a sentence of as low as 90 days, while others are punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

Sentencing becomes confusing when dealing with felonies. There are two types of felony sentencing: determinate sentencing and indeterminate sentencing. Determinate sentencing is a set sentence such as two years in prison, while indeterminate means the sentence does not have a specific date of release.

What is Determinate Sentencing?

Determinate sentencing refers to when there are three prison or jail terms a person faces after being convicted of a crime. For example, assault with a deadly weapon carries a punishment of two, three or four years in jail. A sentencing judge must use “sound discretion” when selecting one of the three possible terms. This is called the “base term.”

In addition to the base term, there are also “enhancements” you could face that will add more time to your sentence. Examples of enhancements include the use of a firearm while committing the crime, having a prior criminal history, and committing the crime in association with a gang. Depending on the circumstances of your case, enhancements could add a short amount of time to your sentence, or could add up to the rest of your life in prison.

But what happens if you are convicted of multiple counts at the same time?

Two Crimes, One Sentence

If you are convicted of multiple criminal charges, it may not mean you will have to serve the complete sentence for each and every count. So how is your sentence determined?

A formula is used to calculate your punishment. This starts by determining the “principle” term. If you are convicted of multiple criminal crimes, the principle is typically the crime with the most severe punishment, including any sentence enhancements. In math terms:

Principle term = base term + enhancements

Any other criminal counts you were convicted of are considered “subordinate.” Subordinate terms add one-third of the middle potential sentence for that crime to your punishment principle. Going back to the example of assault with a deadly weapon: the crime carries two, three or four years in prison, so the middle term is three years. That means an additional one-third of three years (one year) could be added to your sentence. If there are enhancements involved with this count, one-third of any potential enhancement could also be tacked on to your sentence.

So, the formula to calculate your potential consequences is:

Sentence = principle term + subordinate terms + 1/3 enhancements for subordinate terms

Why You Need an Attorney for Sentencing

Sentencing is difficult to understand, even for many judges and lawyers. That is why it is extremely important to hire an experienced attorney to handle your sentencing matters. At Wallin & Klarich, we’ve been successfully defending our clients in criminal cases for over 30 years. Our attorneys can help you obtain the most favorable sentence for your case.

With offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Sherman Oaks and Torrance, our skilled sentencing attorneys can help you no matter where you are located.

Call our offices today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

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About Wallin & Klarich

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Wallin & Klarich was established in 1981. Over the past 32 years, our law firm has helped tens of thousands of families in their time of legal need. Regardless of whether our clients faced criminal or DUI charges, the loss of their driving privilege, or wanted to clean up their criminal record, we have been there to help them.