Criminal convictions in Washington state carry penalties. While that may be a statement as plain as the nose on any judge’s face, it bears repeating. If you’re found guilty of a crime, the consequences are profound.
The state has the capability of taking away your freedom and demanding payment of hefty fines. But the impact of a criminal conviction goes beyond jail and fees.
If convicted, simple day-to-day activities can become complicated and fraught with difficulty. You may find it difficult or impossible to find work, rent a place to live, travel to another country or purchase a firearm.
In Washington state, judges use sentencing guidelines to determine a person’s punishment. The guidelines don’t guarantee a particular sentence for a given crime. Penalties will vary, even for the same misconduct.
The crime may be relatively minor or it could be serious. Either way, when an officer reads you your rights and escorts you to jail, you enter into the criminal justice system.
It’s a system in which, despite your legal rights, you may feel small and friendless.
Don’t face the criminal justice system without help. You have the right to a lawyer. Exercise your prerogative and work with the attorney of your choice. A spirited defense by an experienced legal advocate is key to your future.
The criminal defense lawyers in our firm represent those accused of misdemeanors and felonies. We’re former prosecutors who now work to protect our clients’ rights. We work to ensure the best possible outcome for those charged with a crime.
What Are Sentencing Guidelines?
Judges in Washington follow sentencing guidelines, but they have leeway to vary a sentence. A judge might give a lighter or harsher penalty. Sometimes, a judge’s decision leads to controversy.
In the People v. Turner, a 2016 case in California, Brock Allen Turner was convicted on three felony charges of sexual assault. The convictions carried the potential for 14 years in prison. Prosecutors recommended six years imprisonment.
The judge, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, ultimately followed the recommendations of probation officers, giving Brock six months in jail and three years probation and requiring him to register as a sex offender.
The sentence caused a public outcry. The victim wrote a compelling statement to the court describing the effects of the assault. The statement was published online and widely read by the public.
Many believed Persky showed bias in favor of Brock, a young, white student athlete. Some called for the judge’s removal.
Others, including the Santa Clara County Bar Association, defended the judge’s decision. They said the sentence was in keeping with similar cases. Recalling the judge, his defenders said, would threaten a system that allows for judicial independence.
The case fueled debates about sexual assault and judicial bias in sentencing.
What Do Judges Consider When Sentencing?
Washington, has sentencing guidelines. Guidelines set reasonable minimums and maximums while allowing judges to consider the specifics of a case.
When sentencing, the court considers more than the infraction. It also looks at a defendant’s past. Has the person had other convictions? Is this a first offense? A third? Was the crime serious? Did the convicted person show remorse? Is that person deemed a threat to the community?
Though the guidelines are in place, you won’t know your sentence until your hearing. Sentencing hearings are scheduled following a guilty plea or verdict. The hearing might take place weeks after a conviction. During the intervening time, judges consider the information and decide on a penalty
Some crimes have mandatory minimum sentences. In those circumstances, the penalty may be the minimum or it could be more. Sentencing guidelines are complex. If you’re facing a criminal charge, your attorney will help you understand the possible penalties you face.
Understanding Maximum Penalties
If you’re charged with a crime, it’s important to know Washington’s maximum sentences. As your criminal defense lawyers, we’ll help you understand the possible consequences of a conviction.
There are three types of criminal charges in Vancouver: misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and felonies. Each type has maximum penalties. If you’re found guilty, you stand a better chance of getting a lighter sentence if you have solid legal representation.
Simple misdemeanors include minor offenses such as theft and traffic violations. These punishable up to 90 days in jail and no more than $1,000 in fines.
Gross misdemeanors include such things as driving under the influence and assault. The maximum jail time is one day less than a year with fines not to exceed $5,000.
Felonies are the most serious offenses. Felonies include homicide, assaults and property crimes. This category is further divided into three classes: A, B and C. Class A felonies are the most severe and have the highest penalties.
The maximums are as follows:
- Class A felonies: Life imprisonment without parole or death penalty. $50,000 in fines.
- Class B felonies: Ten years in prison. $20,000 in fines.
- Class C felonies: Five years in prison. $10,000 in fines.
If you and your attorney successfully fight charges, you will of course not be sentenced to jail or receive a fine.
Plea Bargains and Sentences
Some defendants choose to avoid a trial by agreeing to a plea bargain. Most criminal cases end with this type of arrangement. Plea bargains avoid the stress and expense of a trial.
In some cases, a plea bargain may result in a lighter sentence. However, there’s no guarantee. Plea bargains are between a prosecutor and a defendant. The accused’s criminal defense lawyer negotiates the detail of the bargain.
It takes a skillful defense attorney to look after a defendant’s best interests during a plea bargain. While the prosecutor may agree to recommend a lighter sentence, a judge does not have to follow those recommendations.
In some plea bargains, charges are reduced. That can work to the advantage of the defendant if they plead to a crime that carries a lesser maximum sentence.
Contact a Vancouver Criminal Defense Lawyer
Northwest Legal Advocates is a team of lawyers ready to put their experience and expertise to work for you. Don’t go it alone if you’ve been accused of a crime. Contact us for a consultation today.