Judges and juries are permitted to consider a wide variety of factors in imposing a sentence following a drug trial in Lubbock, but they are not permitted to consider inappropriate factors such as race or national origin. The most important facts are generally:
- The seriousness of the offense;
- The perceived need to protect society from future drug crimes;
- The defendant’s criminal record, if any; and
- The defendant’s good or bad character.
The defendant has the right to present evidence and/or argument to the court about each of these factors. In some cases, a pre-sentence investigation may be performed to provide the court with information about the crime and the defendant. The defense may submit letters or testimony from character witnesses, as well as evidence of any good deeds or services the defendant has performed for the community.
Determining a Sentence
In most cases, sentences are determined by the judge. That always happens when the defendant pleads guilty pursuant to a plea bargain. If the defendant chooses to have a jury trial, the defendant can elect to have the sentence decided by a jury rather than a judge if the defendant is found guilty. The defendant must make that election before the trial begins.
Whether a jury is likely to impose a harsher sentence than a judge is unclear. Conventional wisdom suggests that judges are more lenient than juries. Many defendants do not want to be sentenced by the jury that found them guilty. Although a judge is bound by the jury verdict, a judge who has doubts about a defendant’s guilt might be inclined to impose a lenient sentence.
On the other hand, some studies have shown that judges impose more severe punishments than juries, at least for certain kinds of crime. Most studies have concluded that judges and juries tend to impose similar sentences.
Whether to have the judge or the jury impose your sentence is a decision you will need to make after discussing the benefits of each with your lawyer. The decision will often be influenced by the judge who will be presiding at your trial. If the judge is known for dispensing harsh sentences in drug cases, you may want to have a jury decide your fate. If the judge has a history of being reasonable, it may be better to allow the judge to determine your sentence.
The defendant has a right (known as “allocution”) to make a statement to the court prior to sentencing. The defendant’s attorney will discuss that statement with the defendant so that the defendant knows what to say and what not to say. As a general rule, the defendant should not make excuses for his or her conduct. Evidence of mitigating circumstances should be provided by the defense attorney. If it comes from the mouth of the defendant, it sounds like the defendant is not taking responsibility for the crime.
Generally, the defendant will want to say three things in his or her own words:
- An acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Judges are impressed by defendants who take responsibility for their crime and demonstrate an understanding that they made a mistake.
- An expression of remorse. A defendant should always say “I’m sorry” or otherwise express regret, particularly if the crime had a negative impact on other people.
- A plan for the future. The defendant should assure the court that he or she has learned a lesson and that the crime will never be repeated. That assurance is often more convincing if the defendant offers a plan for turning his or her life around (such as furthering an education, finding a better job, avoiding friends who commit crimes, pursuing drug treatment, or obtaining counseling.)