When it comes to criminal law, there are a lot of factors that must be considered to get the most out of your case. One thing that may not be on top of a person’s mind is plea bargaining or sentencing language.
Of course, the legal process in this area is intricate and detailed, so a skilled criminal law attorney is often called upon by their clients to navigate it. While it’s every attorney’s job to understand these things, professional attorneys explain them in a very understandable way to their clients.
What Plea to Enter?
For a person that is charged in a criminal case, one of the most important decisions they will make is what plea to enter. This decision can be difficult, and it is important to have a clear understanding of all your options. For this to happen, you must have a good advocate by your side. You should also have a good rapport with them, meaning you understand each other’s ideas and communicate well.
This article will help you better understand how Connecticut deals with sentences and what you can do about it.
Communication and Understanding is Key
“I don’t walk across the street for less than $500.”
— an anonymous lawyer.
A statement like the one above has no place in a lawyer’s vocabulary, even though it can be common. Those statements resonate and get out to the rest of the world. And not in the best light, either. Statements like this damage the valuable communication flow that is so essential between an attorney and their client too.
Attorneys should also be able to explain not only the sentencing options but also the consequences of each one in an understandable way for their clients. Your attorney should be able to explain the plea-bargaining process clearly and accessibly, as well as what sentence is likely if you go to trial or plead guilty.
The Plea-Bargaining Process in CT
In Connecticut, plea bargaining is a well-established process that allows you to negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge. For example, if you plead guilty to a charge, there is a good chance that you will receive a jail sentence. However, if you go to trial and are found not guilty, you could end up with no criminal record.
Your lawyer should discuss each option with you in detail and explain the potential consequences of each choice. You need to understand not only the legal consequences but also the practical consequences.
The Moynahan Law Firm in Connecticut has a wealth of knowledge and experience in criminal defense cases. Our highly experienced team can provide you with the information that you need to know about your case, including sentencing options. Remember, if any of this or if any other aspect of your case is confusing to you, we care and will take the time to discuss it with you in-depth.
The following primer explains what we are saying when we talk about sentencing options in Connecticut.
Sentencing Options in Connecticut: What is My Lawyer Saying?
If you are charged with committing a crime in Connecticut, your fate will almost certainly be decided at the negotiating table. According to the Department of Justice, well over 90% of state and federal criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargains.
Your sentence if you are found guilty could include a fine, mandatory drug or alcohol treatment, a loss of your driving privileges or community service. But this article will focus on custodial sentences and supervised release, as these are usually the things criminal defendants are most concerned about.
Factors That Influence Sentencing
During plea negotiations, the prosecutor will talk about the strength of the evidence and your criminal defense attorneys will cite mitigating factors that paint you or your behavior in a more favorable light. The prosecutor will be more likely to consider reducing the charges or recommending a more lenient sentence if these arguments are persuasive. Factors that influence prosecutors in these situations include:
- Premeditation: People who got carried away and broke the law in the heat of the moment are usually treated more leniently than offenders who carefully planned their crimes.
- Motive: Motive could lead to a less severe sentence if the defendant did a bad thing for a good reason, but it could lead to harsher treatment if they were driven by hate.
- Prior criminal record: Prosecutors tend to be more sympathetic to defendants who do not have long criminal records, but being in trouble with the law in the past does not always lead to a longer sentence. Defense attorneys could argue that prior acts should not influence the sentence if they are unrelated or occurred long ago and much has changed.
- Remorse: Defendants who regret their actions and seem troubled by the pain they have caused others could be treated more compassionately if prosecutors believe their remorse is genuine.
Jail, Probation and Conditional Discharge
Plea discussions now move on to determining the appropriate sentence. Based on the nature of the crime you are accused of committing and the mitigating factors involved, you could be sentenced to:
- Jail: Custodial sentences of a year or less are usually served in county jail, but offenders convicted of committing serious crimes do their time in state prisons. If you are sent to jail, you may be given a conditional discharge or placed on probation when you are released.
- Probation: You will have to meet conditions if you are placed on probation, and the Court Support Services Division will appoint a probation officer to see that you do. Probation can be ordered instead of a jail sentence, to follow a jail sentence or during a jail sentence, and offenders who violate the terms of their probation can be returned to custody to serve out their sentences even if their violation occurred shortly before their probation was due to end.
- Conditional discharge: The difference between a conditional discharge and probation is supervision. An offender given a conditional discharge is not monitored by a probation officer, but they can still find themselves behind bars if they violate the terms of their release.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Lawmakers have determined that certain offenses should carry a certain amount of jail time no matter what the facts of the case are. These sentences are called mandatory minimums, and there are a lot of them.
When state officials studied the Connecticut Penal Code in 2014, they identified 74 offenses that carried mandatory minimum sentences. These sentences range from one year for using or distributing drug paraphernalia near a school to life without the possibility of early release for murder with special circumstances.
If you ever face a mandatory minimum sentence, your attorney could mount a defense in court or urge the prosecutor to reduce the charge to an offense without a minimum jail sentence.
Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences
Offenders in Connecticut often face multiple charges linked to the same sequence of events. When defendants are sentenced on several charges at the same time, their custodial terms are served either consecutively or concurrently.
Concurrent sentences are all served at the same time, which means each day in jail takes a day off each sentence. Consecutive sentences are added together, and offenders must serve each one in turn.
Flat, Split and Suspended Sentences
The sentencing recommendations that judges follow in many criminal cases include more than the number of months or years the offender will remain in custody.
They may also state how much of the sentence should be served and how long the offender will be supervised following their release. They could even recommend that the judge suspend the sentence. The three types of custodial sentence in Connecticut are:
- Flat sentences: A flat sentence ends when the offender is released from custody. Offenders who serve flat sentences are not placed on probation or monitored after leaving jail or prison, but they usually spend more time behind bars than defendants who agree to post-release supervision.
- Split sentences: This is the most common type of custodial sentence in Connecticut. Offenders who receive split sentences spend less time in jail, but they are given conditional discharge or placed on probation when they are released. These sentences are often abbreviated into three numbers signifying the length of the sentence, the amount of time that will be spent behind bars and the amount of time that will be spent on probation or under a conditional release.
- Suspended sentences: Offenders who receive suspended sentences do not spend any time in jail as long as they abide by conditions set by the court, which usually include a period of probation. If the offender commits another crime or violates the terms of their probation, they can be remanded to custody to serve their sentence.
Experience Is Crucial in Plea Negotiation
If you ever find yourself facing charges that could carry jail time, you will need an experienced criminal defense attorney to advocate zealously on your behalf during plea negotiations. If you want to know more about sentencing options, please contact the team at The Moynahan Law Firm today. We would be happy to speak with you and make sure the specifics of your sentencing options are crystal clear.
The Moynahan Law Firm has been fighting for the rights of the accused for more than three decades, and we always fight to obtain the best possible outcome for our clients. If you would like to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, you can reach us by calling (203) 597-6364, or you can fill out our online form.