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How Does Sentencing Work After a Criminal Trial?

A criminal trial does not end when the jury delivers a guilty verdict. There is then the matter of determining the defendant’s sentence. The trial judge is responsible for sentencing the defendant after considering information offered by the prosecution and any statements from the victims (if any). The defendant also has a statutory right to “make a statement and to present information in mitigation of punishment.”

Court of Special Appeals Orders New Sentencing Hearing After Man Convicted of Assault But Acquitted of Murder

Although sentencing may take place immediately after receiving the jury’s guilty verdict, a judge is expected to give the defendant adequate time, when requested, to prepare and present evidence regarding mitigation. Failure to do so can lead an appellate court to order a new sentencing hearing.

For example, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently held that a Washington County judge acted improperly in moving to immediately sentence a defendant without granting time to prepare evidence of mitigation. The case, Broussard v. State, involved the September 2017 shooting death of a man in Hagerstown. According to prosecutors, the defendant executed the victim to “avenge” the murder of his cousin. The defendant insisted it was another person who shot and killed the victim.

The jury actually acquitted the defendant on murder charges but convicted him on the lesser offense of first-degree assault. After discharging the jury, the judge asked both sides if they wished to proceed with a sentencing. The prosecution wanted to proceed right away, arguing that the victim’s family was already in the courtroom and that it would be “cruel to bring them back” for a later sentencing hearing. The defense, however, wanted an opportunity to prepare additional information–specifically a psychological report about the defendant–and asked for a delay.

The judge, however, agreed with the prosecution that it would be unfair to make the victim’s family return. The court therefore denied the defense motion to delay sentencing. The judge then imposed the maximum possible sentence of 25 years in prison, reasoning that even though the jury only convicted the defendant of assault, his actions did lead to the victim’s death.

The Court of Special Appeals said the judge clearly violated the defendant’s rights in denying him “additional time” to obtain the new psychological evaluation. This denied the defendant a “meaningful opportunity to present information in mitigation of punishment.” The trial judge suggested that the evaluation was unnecessary given one was prepared before trial and found the defendant “mentally competent.” But as the appellate court noted, the purpose of the new report sought by the defense was to “present information relevant to mitigation in sentencing.” Indeed, the report prepared for sentencing covered a good deal of information that was not included in the pre-trial competency evaluation.

Even if the judge ultimately decided the new report did not justify mitigation, the law still required the trial court to consider it before imposing a sentence. The desire to not inconvenience the victim’s family did not outweigh the defendant’s statutory rights, the Court of Special Appeals concluded, so it ordered a new sentencing hearing.

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This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.