Defendants who receive a guilty verdict in New Jersey District Court will proceed to the sentencing stage. You will have been remanded to federal custody after the issuance of the verdict, and it may be a few months before you return to court to hear your sentence. All the while, your attorney may be preparing both for an appeal, and to argue for the lightest potential sentence.
Appeals offer room for hope, but your attorney must also operate as if an appeal will fail. This way, they will fight to secure the most favorable sentence, just in case you do have to fulfill the sentence the judge hands down.
The Sentencing Stage, Explained
Firstly, know that federal criminal cases in New Jersey can have a wide range of outcomes. However, these cases generally involve substantial criminal offenses, and possible criminal sanctions you face may include:
- Jail time
- Payment of restitution
- Other legal penalties
Each defendant and case is unique. The nature of the charges you face, the judge's ideological views, your demeanor during the trial and at sentencing, and other factors may influence the sentence you receive. The persuasiveness of your attorney is another critical factor in the sentencing outcome.
How Do Federal Sentencing Guidelines Affect Defendants in New Jersey Federal Court?
You may be familiar with the term “mandatory minimums.” For certain offenses, judges must follow federal sentencing guidelines. Even if the judge wanted to issue a lighter sentence, they are in certain cases forbidden from doing so. Federal sentencing guidelines, which set these mandatory minimums, are an important factor in your case.
Federal sentencing guidelines are, in other cases, more suggestive. These guidelines sometimes serve as guardrails that the judge can rely on when developing your sentence. The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) explains that federal sentencing guidelines account for:
- How serious the alleged criminal offense is, with guidelines establishing 43 tiers of severity
- The unique details of the offense you are accused of, as some crimes are considered more heinous than others (even if they fall within the same category of legal offense)
- Adjustments that the judge makes, as they have some discretion to upgrade or downgrade a sentence based on specific factors listed in USSC sentencing guidelines
- Your words and demeanor during sentencing, as “accepting responsibility” for an alleged offense may result in a lighter sentence—but may also harm your appeal, so your lawyer will advise you on this specific point
- Your prior criminal record
When a judge departs significantly from sentencing guidelines, they must generally provide a written explanation of why they did so. This explanation is important, considering that you may be actively pursuing an appeal, and your sentence may be one element of that appeal. If a judge's sentencing decision does not hold up under the scrutiny of appeal, it may be subject to change by a higher court.
Your Attorney's Representation Extends to the Sentencing Phase
You may notice a common theme as you examine each stage of the federal court process: A lawyer, and the skill, knowledge, and experience they bring, is extremely important. This remains true during the sentencing stage, when your lawyer will push for the judge to issue a fair sentence—and generally the lightest possible sentence.
Your lawyer's role during the sentencing stage may include:
- Making an oral argument explaining why you are deserving of a certain sentence
- Highlighting your positive actions since the start of the criminal case, which may include attempts at self-improvement and helping others
- Presentation of witnesses who speak to your good character, personal changes since the date of the alleged offense, and importance to your loved ones
- Combat the prosecution's attempts to paint you in a negative light or exaggerate the details of the offense in question
You may make a statement during the sentencing stage. Even if you do not admit fault for the offense in question, you may express contrition for the circumstances and display your general good character. Your attorney will prepare you to make any such statement.
Hire the Lento Law Firm for Your Federal Case in New Jersey
If you are facing federal charges in New Jersey, Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm can help you every step of the way.
Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.