Maryland Sentence Modification Lawyers
Maryland law provides many chances for those convicted of crimes to change and have lighter sentences than originally imposed.
Whether it’s the first sentence hearing, a plea bargain negotiation or a request to modify an old sentence, JC Law has your back and will fight for a fairer outcome.
What Happens At A Sentencing Hearing In Maryland Courts?
Prior to sentencing, a defendant has been determined as guilty of some crime – either convicted after a trial or has pleaded guilty.
The prosecution and the defense legal teams both submit their recommendations to the judge for consideration before the hearing.
During the actual sentencing hearing, the prosecutors, defense team, the accuser, and the convicted defendant may all speak to argue for or against certain sentences.
(However, no new evidence or witnesses are brought to a sentencing hearing.)
The judge then determines the “sentence,” or punishment, that the convicted defendant must endure.
In Maryland, sentences can range from fines to imprisonment to the death penalty.
Some crimes – such as child pornography charges – have mandatory sentences which judges cannot change.
In other cases, the judges enjoy a great deal of freedom in how they sentence guilty parties.
In sentencing, the judge considers a multitude of factors, including:
- The convicted offense itself
- The recommendations of both the prosecution and defense legal counsel
- The circumstances surrounding the crime
- How the defendant carried themselves during the investigation and trial
- Any previous case law – or how this case could set a precedent for future rulings
- Any requirements by law
Maryland juries almost never issue sentences, except when the death penalty is a possible sentence. The jury can declare whether someone is innocent or guilty of the charges, but generally do not recommend punishments.
In fact, a criminal defense attorney can petition for a mistrial if they can prove the jury considered the punishment while making their determination of guilt or innocence.
Can You Change A Sentence After A Judge Gives It?
Yes, you can change a sentence retroactively!
Your legal defense team can submit what’s called a “motion to modify” after your sentence is given, requesting that a judge reconsider the previous sentence.
In some ways, there’s very little risk to requesting a modified sentence. That’s because in Maryland, a judge cannot legally raise the punishment – only lower or refuse to change it.
That means the worst that can happen is that the court refuses to consider your motion. You never know if your sentence can change until you ask!
When Can You File A Motion To Modify A Maryland Criminal Sentence?
There’s two parts to a motion to modify a sentence: Requesting the right to ask for a change at a later date, and then the actual motion itself.
Usually, the defendant or their legal team will file a request to the court within 90 days of the sentencing – keeping their right to ask for a sentence change later. Judges have the right to immediately dismiss the motion, but often the courts will keep the motion in the case file until later.
Once the defendant’s legal team has judged the timing right to ask for a sentence modification, they’ll officially file the motion requesting the judge to examine the old sentence and change it based on several factors.
Timing here is crucial. Technically, you can ask for a sentence modification as soon as the sentence is handed down.
However, most Maryland judges frown on those sorts of shenanigans. What justification could the court have to reconsider a sentence when there’s been no time for changes in either the evidence presented or the situation of the convicted defendant?
On the other hand, waiting too long means that you suffer a more extreme punishment than was otherwise required.
What Kind Of Sentence Modifications Can Be Requested?
There are several ways in which a Maryland sentence can be changed. These include:
- Granting parole sooner than expected
- Alleviating some restrictions placed on you during parole or probation, such as internet access or travel permissions
- Lowering fine amounts
- Adjusting the sentence type so that the charge can (eventually) be expunged from public record
How Do “Plea Bargains” Or “Plea Deals” Impact Maryland Sentences?
Unlike sentence hearings, “plea bargains” happen privately between defense lawyers and the prosecutor’s office.
See, it’s expensive for a prosecutor to pursue every single crime individually in court, but they still want people who have broken the law to be punished.
On the other hand, people facing maximum sentences of decades in prison or revocation of licenses would rather not risk a judge handing down that maximum at a sentencing hearing.
So, both the prosecution and the defense try to negotiate some sort of agreement outside of court.
Once agreed to, both parties would submit the bargain to the court for review. During the sentencing hearing, a judge would essentially “rubber stamp” the plea deal – eliminating lots of time, angst, and worry about the unknown for everyone involved.
For an example of a real-life plea bargain, consider former security advisor Michael Flynn.
In 2017, Flynn plead guilty to a single charge of knowingly making false statements to a federal agent instead of facing all the other charges prosecutors could have pressed.
In exchange, Flynn offered evidence and testimony against others during the federal investigation.
Some quick notes about plea bargains in Maryland:
- The defense cannot accept a plea bargain on behalf of their client without their client’s permission.
- Not all charges can be negotiated through a plea deal.
- The prosecution cannot suggest a minimum sentence below the prosecuted charges as mandated by law. However, they can reduce the charges filed before the conviction.
- Plea bargain negotiations continue throughout the discovery period and the trial, right up until the sentencing.
- You usually can’t get a record expunged right after the sentencing. Expect any negotiated deal to stay “live” to the public for at least three years.
The Prosecution Offered You A Plea Deal. Should You Take It?
Plea bargains are a bit like playing poker. You know the evidence and facts on your side, but you don’t know what’s in the prosecutor’s hand.
The prosecutor’s office will offer you something based on their information and how they think it’ll play out in court.
That offer might be acceptable, or it could be used as leverage for a more beneficial deal – only a criminal defense lawyer can really say for sure.
If you’re evaluating a plea deal, then consider the following:
- The prosecutor doesn’t always make their best offer, the first
- Prosecutors cannot promise something that the law makes legally impossible. That is, if they ask you to plead guilty to a crime with a minimum prison sentence, then you must go to prison – no matter what they otherwise promised.
- Pleading guilty often means you can’t expunge the crime later. It would stay open to public discovery forever, impacting your personal and professional life.
- Sometimes, prosecutors file greater charges than the crimes alleged actually merit, in the hopes they can negotiate down to a lesser charge.
- If you refuse a plea deal, take the case to court, and are found guilty, then there is no guarantee on the sentencing the judge can hand down. Most negotiation power is done before the trial concludes.
How Can Defense Lawyers Help Sentencing? Isn’t It Too Late For Legal Help By Then?
Getting a great criminal defense lawyer to argue preferred sentences on your behalf is one of the smartest things you can do – even if you represented yourself or had a public defender for the actual trial.
Great criminal defense teams understand the law inside and out, as well as the courts and prosecutors’ offices. They’ll know what’s possible to ask for – and what’s not – considering your conviction.
They’ll consult with you to see what sorts of punishments you and your family can least afford –time in jail, license revocation, excessive fines, sex offender registration – and attempt to negotiate with prosecutors to find alternative punishments.
They can also plead extenuating circumstances before judges to convince them against maximum or overly harsh sentences.
After all, some crimes such as embezzlement merit fines of up to $100,000 – but if you can’t afford to pay such a fine, should they really charge it?
Or if you stole bread to feed your family and were convicted of theft – how does locking you up do anything to help the broader circumstances behind your theft?
These are simplistic representations of how sentences can be argued, modified, and adjusted. However, it’s difficult to negotiate these things alone. You need a criminal defense lawyer who knows the system, its players, and the possibilities to score you the greatest success.
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