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It may be tough to tell what is worse: being found guilty of an offence (whether or not you actually did it) or the agonising wait to find out what your sentence will be. Sentencing procedures vary between the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court, and what your sentence will ultimately be is dependant not only the crime you have been found guilty of, but also a long list of aggravating and mitigating factors (factors the judge considers to make you more or less culpable, or your crime to have caused more or less harm). If you have been wondering about what your sentence might be, this article is for you. We outline some of the main points that go into a sentencing decision, and address some of the most common concerns we get from clients.
The length of time between conviction and sentencing can, and indeed often does, vary. Sometimes, the sentencing occurs immediately after the trial, but in other instances, a separate court date may be set for the sentencing hearing.
Regrettably, there is no way of determining exactly how long it is going to take to get to sentencing after conviction, and there are no guarantees, but a few weeks is quite a typical timeline.
Rest assured, however, that the sentencing process is integral to the administration of justice, and courts are dedicated to ensuring it proceeds efficiently and fairly. A judge will be conscious of what impact the wait time might be having on you and your family, and will try to ensure that everything is done on as expeditious a schedule as possible.
According to Statistica, in 2022, the most common sentence length for prisoners in England and Wales was between two and four years. Sentence lengths do, however, greatly vary based on the nature of the offence and the individual circumstances of the case. The seriousness of the offence along with a host of other factors determine prison sentences.
When a defendant is found guilty, the next stage is that a judge at the court will decide on their sentence, but it is not necessarily something that happens that day. The sentencing hearing could be a few days or even weeks after the guilt finding. This is the case whether it is the magistrate’s or the Crown Court.
At the sentencing hearing, the court will ‘hear’ information on the offence and any previous convictions. The prosecution will outline the facts of the case, including the impact on victims (which may include financial damage if the victim was a corporation in a fraud case, for example), while the defence will provide mitigating circumstances (such as it being the offender’s first offence). All these factors will be considered to arrive at a fair and proportionate sentence that is not only consistent with what the Sentencing Council prescribes, but also what other offenders have been given for similar offences and situations.
In determining a sentence, judges consider factors such as the type, seriousness, and circumstances of the crime. They also take into account the defendant’s age, criminal record, and whether they pleaded guilty or not guilty. Factors that could make the crime more serious (aggravating circumstances) or those that make it less serious (mitigating circumstances) are also considered. Judges must follow guidelines from the Sentencing Council – they are not allowed simply to come to their own conclusions on sentencing – and in doing so, they may refer to decisions made in previous cases.
The average custodial sentence length for various crimes can provide an idea of the crimes that typically receive around six months in prison (note that ‘jail’ is a term typically used to indicate the waiting period before going to trial or between the verdict and sentencing). Many drug possession crimes or relatively minor assaults can lead to sentences of around six months.
In practice, it is tough to identify immediately which crimes will receive a six month sentence. Note, however, that if the permissible sentence is a maximum of six months, the case will be heard by the magistrate’s court.
In the Crown Court, just like in the magistrate’s court, the minimum sentence for an offence will be determined by the sentencing range set by the Sentencing Council. Minimum sentences, along with maximum sentences and sentence starting points, can be found for each offence on the Sentencing Council’s website, which is open to the public and free to use.
If you plead not guilty to an offence and later are found guilty, you will be determined to be an ‘offender’ subject to sentencing just like anyone else found guilty. Either immediately after the verdict or a few days or weeks after, if there is a gap between the two dates, the judge will consider what will be a fair sentence for you. The rules in this regard are the same.
Where things change are in respect of the impact that an early guilty plea has on an eventual sentence. To dissuade defendants from ‘chancing’ it in court, just in case a jury finds them not guilty, there is a positive outcome to entering a truthful early plea of guilt: you get part of your sentence knocked off immediately.
If you plead guilty at the very first opportunity, you can get up to one third of the time off your sentence (a three year sentence would become a two year sentence, for example). If you plead guilty at a later date, the judge may still give you a reduction for the sentence but it will not be the full third.
Asking an experienced criminal defence solicitor for their advice on when to enter a plea is the best way to ensure that you are making the correct strategic decision for your case. Because cases vary so much, it is best not to make assumptions about what you will or will not receive.
In short, yes. If you have been waiting, say, one month for a sentencing date and the judge later gives you a sentence of six months, you will only have to serve a further five months (which may, in the end, get reduced for good behaviour anyway). Sentencing works this way to ensure that those who have to wait longer for sentencing hearings are not unfairly disadvantaged versus those who might get them quicker, for whatever reason.
Per guidance from the Sentencing Council, a sentencing hearing is a critical stage in the legal process where the court determines the appropriate punishment for a convicted individual. This occurs following a plea of guilt or a finding of guilt in either a magistrates’ court or the Crown Court.
During a sentencing hearing, the court reviews all elements of the offence as well as the offender’s background to reach a fair and balanced sentence. Here are some key steps in the process:
The court is informed of the conviction details including the nature of the offence, whether the offender pleaded guilty or not, and the timing of their plea.
The prosecution presents the facts of the case, including any factors that could increase or decrease the severity of the offence, such as the impact on victims, and informs the court about any previous convictions the offender might have.
The defence has an opportunity to present mitigating factors, which involves detailing the circumstances surrounding the offence and providing information about the offender’s character and any relevant history.
Both the prosecution and defence are likely to reference sentencing guidelines to inform the court’s decision-making process.
In summary, a sentencing hearing is a comprehensive evaluation of the offence and the offender, with the ultimate goal of delivering a sentence that matches the gravity of the crime and the offender’s circumstances.
If you or someone you care about is struggling to know how to navigate the sentencing process, get in touch with the team at Stuart Miller Solicitors today. Our friendly and non-judgemental lawyers have decades’ of combined experience in the criminal justice system and know the many ins and outs of how sentencing works. Getting help as early on in the process is your best bet for a favourable outcome. For a free consultation with no obligation to engage us, contact our team today.
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