If you are found guilty or plead guilty to a felony in Virginia, the judge in your criminal case will sentence you. The penalties you face will be based on Virginia’s sentencing guidelines.
The best way to avoid the harshest punishments you may face is to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. They may be able to negotiate a favorable plea agreement with the prosecutor where the charges against you are reduced or convince the judge to give you a more lenient sentence. As you are considering your options in your criminal case, you need to understand how sentencing guidelines work in Virginia.
What Are Sentencing Guidelines in Virginia?
Virginia Code §19.2-298.01 outlines the use of sentencing guidelines in the sentencing phase of felony cases. It requires the judge to consider a sentencing guideline worksheet and a list of minimum and maximum sentences for felony crimes given the circumstances of a particular criminal case.
The guidelines are not mandatory, but they give judges guidance in sentencing defendants so that individuals convicted of the same offense receive similar punishments. However, a judge has the power to impose a reduced or more harsh punishment. If they do this, they must explain their reasons for deviating from the sentencing guidelines.
Sentencing guidelines are also used by defendants and their criminal defense lawyers. They are often examined when deciding what would be the best plea bargain option.
How a Judge Will Determine Your Sentence Under the Guidelines
Before sentencing, the judge would have a probation officer prepare a sentencing worksheet. Only one worksheet would be completed, even if you pled guilty to or were convicted of more than one offense. The probation officer would work through several stages in completing the worksheet. At each stage, points would accumulate that will determine the severity of your sentence. The more points you are assigned, the harsher the punishment could be.
There are a number of factors that the probation officer would consider. For example, if you were convicted of burglary, they would take into account the following:
- Primary offense. If the primary offense was more serious, additional points would be assessed on the worksheet. Using a deadly weapon, committing the crime at night, or having people present at the time of the offense would result in more points against you.
- Additional crimes. If you were also convicted of another crime, this would be considered as well, and the probation officer would assign more points.
- Mandatory minimum sentence. Some crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences. If your primary or additional offenses involve a mandatory sentence, you would earn more points.
- Weapons. If you used a weapon, such as a knife, gun, or simulated weapon, the probation officer would add more points on the worksheet.
- Criminal history. The probation officer would also review your prior criminal history. If you have prior juvenile, misdemeanor, or felony convictions, this will result in additional points being assessed.
- Probation or parole. If you committed the current crime while you were on probation or parole, additional points would be added to your case.
Once the worksheet is completed, the probation officer would add up all the points and use a grid to determine the recommended sentencing range. This would be provided to the judge, prosecutor, and criminal defense lawyer.
The worksheet will give the judge guidance on how you should be sentenced. However, if you have a skilled criminal defense lawyer, they may be able to show why you should receive a sentence lower than those recommended in the sentencing guidelines. The judge could have many options for imposing a punishment that includes:
- Mandatory minimum sentence if you were convicted of one of approximately 80 crimes, such as DUI, drug, firearm, and assault, that require this
- Jail or prison sentence
- Daytime reporting
- Substance abuse treatment
- Drug court
- Restitution to the victim
- Community service
- Diversion detention program for juveniles
How a Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
Have you been charged with a criminal offense in Virginia? Even if you know that you are guilty, you may have strong defenses to the charges you face. Our dedicated criminal defense lawyers will mount a strong defense strategy and will assist you in obtaining the least harsh punishment if you choose to plead guilty. To learn more about how we can assist you, call our Manassas office to schedule a free consultation today.