Sentencing in Criminal Cases

Sentencing in Denver, Colorado Courts

The most important phase of a Denver criminal case following a plea or finding of guilt, is sentencing. Here, judges give the final word on what they feel is an appropriate punishment for the misdemeanor or felony crime. Regrettably, they are very influenced by the testimony of a "victim," a victim's family members, probation officers and district attorneys. They don't want any criticism leveled against them for being "soft" on crime. As long as the court is limited by the terms of a plea agreement with the district attorney, the outcome of a sentencing hearing is largely predictable. With open sentencing, the accused (now convicted) person can face any sentence in the range for that crime's class.  Following a jury's guilty verdict after a trial, men and women must be prepared for a worse case scenario, where they can be given the maximum sentence.  To some extent, there is an unwritten, extra penalty for going to trial and losing, compared to pleading guilty.

Arapahoe County Judges Concerns at Sentencing: How They Limit Their Risk

District Court and County Court judges in Arapahoe County face a difficult challenge in sentencing men and women who plead guilty or are found guilty of crimes. On the one hand, they want to please the Littleton public who might vote later in a retention vote of the judge. On the other hand, they don't want to harshly sentence everyone and fill up our jails and prisons - or get a reputation for doing so. Publicity in Centennial and Englewood for being too harsh on crime, or too easy on crime, can both affect a judge's tenure on the bench.  As a result, judges engage in what many government employees do in our criminal justice system: they solicit the opinions of other workers in their field. Then, they try to stay close to those recommendations in the sentence they impose. It is always best for a judge to have others to blame or share the blame with if criticism gets to hot down the road.

The Role of Jefferson County, Colroado Probation Officers at Sentencing: the PSI

Prior to sentencing in most criminal cases, a Jefferson County judge will request that the probation department in Jefferson County prepare a presentence investigation or a presentence report. This is a document which the judge reads before sentencing. It contains information from a probation officer on their investigation into the crime and the defendant being sentenced.  It concludes with recommendations on sentencing to the court. Some of what is included in this presentence report includes: alcohol and substance abuse evaluations, a defendant's criminal history, mental health evaluations, the defendant's testing in areas of concern, the defendant's statement of what occurred in the case, police reports, the law on the possible sentence range, any limitations on the sentence by plea agreement or law, and the probatoin officer's personal feelings on what should occur at sentencing.  The PSI or PSIR is a guide for the judge to use in fashioning an appropriate sentence.

Douglas County Helpers for the Judge's Sentencing Decision

Since a judge is not an expert in many areas of concern for sentencing, they indirectlly hire people to advise them on areas of possible concern.  These people included Castle Pines counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, drug testers, criminal record searchers and other professionals.  These experts prepare reports to give to the court for sentencing in Douglas and Grand County. For example, probation or a defendant might want the judge to know that a treatable condition, like drug use, played a major role in the crime's commission. Victims in Parker, Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock might provide comments in a Victim Impact Statement, where they can express to the judge the impact of the crime on them or their family. By these reports, victims want the court to sentence the accused more harshly.  It is important to note that the defendant can provide Probation with documentation for the court to read which pertains to the possible sentence - this can include letters or treatment reports.

Adams County District Attorneys at Sentencing

A judge will always get a sentencing statement from the prosecutor. The Adams County District Attorney will orchestrate a presentation of all negative information on behalf of their victim and against the defendant. They rarely advocate for a less harsh sentence, unless it is politically safe for them and ok with their victim. The Brighton and Westminster DA will give the court their opinion on how the defendant should be punished, and will request financial reimbursement for the victim, which is called "restitution".

Victims and Their Family at Boulder County Sentencing

A very dangerous part of sentencing is when a victim stands in front of the judge and gives a tearful statement on the harm they have suffered at the hands of the defendant. It can be very emotional and scripted by the Boulder County District Attorney and their Victim's Advocate.  We see some victims who are reasonable, but most are angry and want to get revenge by asking the judge to sentence the defendant harshly. This time is often used as a forum for the victims to convince family and friends that they did not do anything wrong.  Victims are also permitted to ask family members to speak on their behalf if they feel it will help their cause and make them look better.

The Defense Lawyer at Court Sentencing in Denver

The convicted person (defendant) is represented at sentencing by their experienced criminal defense attorney, who understands the motives and thought process of a judge and other parties. Lawyers need to be reasonable and not ask the judge for something he or she can't do by law.  It is counter-productive to seek an unreasonable sentence.  So, defense attorneys will ask the judge for a lower sentence based on our reading of the case facts and Colorado law. We can have family members of the defendant speak, have professionals give opinions and reports to the court to counter those of the government, and teach our client what to say and what not to say.

Most important at sentencing, we want a defendant to fully accept responsibility for their conduct in the crime. We never want our client to say: "I accept responsibility for my crime.  We train our clients how to use language to let the court know they have the right attitude. We teach them what not to say. Any statements must be genuine. Also, a defendant should never try and shift any blame to their victim at sentencing. Defendants can offer good reasons the court should not give them jail or prison, such as their need for continued employment to support family or disabled relatives.

A Denver Judge's Toolbox for Sentencing

Sentencing law says that a judge can give a defendant probation or incarceration. With probation, judges can set any condition "reasonably related" to a defendant's rehabilitation. In other words, pretty much anything connected with getting the defendant better so he does not reoffend. This toolbox can include mental health treatment, drug treatment, alcohol treatment, therapy, medicines, employment, community service, restitution, classes on victim empathy like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), GPS monitoring, protection and restraining orders, seeing a probation officer, and payment of court costs and fines. A judge can also impose jail as a condition of probation: up to 60 days for a misdemeanor and 90 days for a felony, or 2 years of work release. Colorado Jail and Prison Information.

If a Denver judge is required to impose a sentence to jail or prison, they only have a few alternatives. Generally, county jail is the norm on misdemeanors and prison on felony convictions. However, a judge can sentence to Community Corrections (like a halfway house) for many felony crimes. They can also sentence someone to in-home detention on less serious cases. Sentence ranges are limited by Colorado statute. Certain crimes have mandatory minimums - like crimes of violence (Robbery and Assault) and sex offenses. In some cases, like sexual assault, judges must sentence men and women to an indeterminate or life sentence.

Why You Need an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney at Your Douglas County, Colorado Sentencing

Sentencing is the most important thing in a case after someone has been found guilty or pled guilty in Douglas County. Never go it alone. Colorado's sentencing laws are complex and contain many hidden rules which a defendant can benefit from or be harmed by. You don't want any surprises at sentencing. Our Castle Rock criminal defense lawyers have been conducting sentencing hearings for over forty years. You can greatly benefit from a lesser sentence if you have one of the best criminal defense attorneys at your side. Imagine the cost savings if you hire a good defense lawyer who gets years off your sentence.  Even with a modest salary of $40,000 per year, the cost / benefit can be huge. Call our Denver area criminal defense lawyers at 303-731-0719 today, for a free in office consultation. We can also visit your family member in the county jail. Together, we can protect your future.

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