What Happens Before A Sentence Is Imposed In Federal Court?

The process for imposing sentence in a federal criminal case can be complex.

In this short video, federal criminal defense attorney Matt Kaiser explains what happens between when a person is convicted in federal court - either by a plea agreement or at trial - and when the person is sentenced.

Video Transcript:

After a person is convicted of a crime in federal court, either by plea or a trial, the next thing that happens in their case – which can be a significant and incredibly important moment in their life – is they are sentenced. The judge says how long they are going to be in prison if they are going to prison at all. The procedure for how that judge determines that is a little bit tricky and it's important to know what it is if you are going into a sentencing proceeding.

The first thing that happens is a probation officer – someone who the court asks to do this job – goes out and sits with the person who has been convicted and interviews them. The probation officer then puts together what's called a presentence report. A presentence report is a document that’s a social history, it's a family history and educational history, financial history, it's any kind of history there can be of the person who is going to be sentenced.

The presentence report goes to the judge and it goes to the prosecutor and it goes to the defense lawyer. You will have a chance to object what's in the presentence report. There are small objections and large objections and you should work with your lawyer to figure out what objections need to be made.

The next thing that happens is you work with your attorney to prepare a sentencing memorandum. The way I do these they are substantial documents that have letters from family and friends who want to say good things with the person who is going to sentencing and they lay out why the person who is going to sentencing should get a lower sentence.

Finally what happens is you go to a sentencing hearing and that’s a chance for the judge to hear in person from your attorney. The judge will also listen to the prosecutor and what the prosecutor has to say. And the judge will listen to the person who is being sentenced.

If that’s you they will listen to you and you will need to work with your attorney to figure out what it is you want to say so that when the judge at the end of the hearing announces the sentence, you have the best chance possible of getting the lowest sentence possible.