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Does a judge or a jury decide a defendant’s sentence in Virginia?

On Behalf of | May 20, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Those accused of criminal offenses in Virginia often worry about the potential consequences of their situation. Every crime has a different classification under state law and carries different potential penalties. The law generally provides a range of penalties including mandatory minimum sentences in some cases and maximum penalties for most convictions.

A charge could lead to probation, fines, jail time and even orders of restitution in some cases if people plead guilty or get convicted at trial. Community service and licensing penalties are also possible with certain types of criminal infractions.

Those preparing to defend against criminal allegations in Virginia often worry that a defense might put them at risk of a harsher sentence than a guilty plea. In addition to knowing what penalties are possible, defendants also need to understand who chooses those penalties. Does a judge or jury determine someone’s sentence in Virginia?

Defendants have the right to choose

Those facing criminal charges have long had the option of choosing between a judge hearing their case and a jury trial. The right to a jury trial is a crucial protection enshrined in the Sixth Amendment that many people utilize when facing criminal charges.

In Virginia, the law used to combine that right with a requirement to have the jury sentence someone after a conviction. Thankfully, that approach to criminal sentencing has since changed. As of July 1, 2021, defendants are no longer subject to mandatory jury sentencing rules.

They can choose between having the jury that heard the case or the judge presiding over the trial set the sentence. Depending on the judge hearing the case and the likelihood of a jury being sympathetic, a defendant and their lawyer can make the determination on a case-by-case basis about whether having a judge hand down a sentence or a jury and pose one is likely to have a more favorable outcome.

Those who take their criminal cases to trial in Virginia typically need to know what to expect during that process. Selecting the right criminal defense strategy often involves choosing the type of trial and even the form of sentencing someone faces.

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