Understanding Sentencing Errors and Appeals

How can you navigate sentencing errors and appeals? The law offices of Strickland Webster, LLC,can help. Trust our experienced team for legal guidance. Call now!

What Are Sentencing Errors?

Have you or your loved one been convicted and sentenced for a state or federal crime? It’s crucial to know that this is not the end of the road. You may be able to file an appeal with the Georgia Court of Appeals to challenge your criminal conviction or sentence.

Sentencing errors refer to the mistakes or issues that occur during the sentencing phase of a criminal case, including:

  • Imposing an excessive sentence: When a judge imposes a sentence that is considered excessive or inappropriate given the circumstances of the case, it may be challenged through an appeal.
  • Erroneous application of sentencing guidelines: If a judge applies sentencing guidelines incorrectly or fails to consider relevant factors, the sentence may be challenged on appeal or through post-conviction remedies. Such errors include
    • Applying a mandatory minimum sentence erroneously
    • Erroneously assigning a criminal offense history or offense level
    • Inaccurately or improperly calculating credit for time served
  • Misapplication of the law: Law application errors happen when the court applies the law incorrectly. Such errors can include the imposition of a non-applicable sentence enhancement provision or a written sentence in the order that differs from the judge’s orally pronounced sentence. Errors of application can be factual, computational, or legal errors.
  • Refusal to consider mitigating factors: Mitigating factors, such as the absence of a prior criminal record, having mental health illness, and showing genuine remorse, must be considered by a judge during a sentence. Failure to consider these mitigating factors may give you a ground to appeal the sentence. 
  • Sentencing based on factual errors: Factual errors during the sentencing phase can lead to wrongful convictions and unjust sentences. These happen when the court determines a sentence based on incorrect predicate facts or crimes.
  • Sentence increase due to consideration of an inaccurate legal theory: When a judge increases a sentence on the basis of a legal theory the jury did not accept as accurate or true beyond a reasonable doubt, the sentence may be erroneous.

Sentencing errors, including but not limited to the ones listed above, are valid grounds for appeal. An appeal seeks to rectify these issues by challenging the validity or fairness of the original sentence imposed. The goal is to secure a more just and equitable outcome for the defendant. However, the specific procedures and criteria for filing and pursuing sentencing appeals can vary by jurisdiction. For example, if you were sentenced for a federal crime, your appeal is filed with a higher federal court and follows federal appeal rules.

It’s essential to consult with an attorney familiar with types of appeals in Georgia, like those on our team at Strickland Webster, LLC.

The Sentencing Process and the Possibility of Appeals

After receiving a guilty verdict at trial, your case will proceed to the sentencing hearing. There are state and federal sentencing guidelines that judges must consider before determining a sentence for a criminal defendant. Some of the elements that the sentencing judge will use to determine a fair sentence include: 

  • Your criminal history category
  • Your offense level
  • Enhancement to the offense level by the prosecution
  • Grounds for a downward departure from the guidelines range.

During this hearing, your attorney may file a statement of mitigation to persuade the court to give you a lighter sentence. Mitigating factors can lessen your offense severity, and these can include: 

  • Absence of prior criminal record
  • Ability and willingness to reform
  • Presence of mental health challenges

The prosecution will also present aggravating factors to increase the severity of your offense. Such factors can include:

  • The level of harm you caused the victim
  • Lack of remorse
  • Commission of a crime in front of a child
  • Past criminal convictions
  • Likelihood to offend again

Then, the judge would consider the probation department’s report, your mitigation statement, the prosecution’s aggravating factors, and the victim’s or their representative’s statements. Your sentence may be determined in a day or a few weeks, depending on the details of your case.

If you believe that the judge made a sentencing error in your case, you may be able to use such error as a ground for appeal.

How the Appeals Process Works

According to GA Code §5-6-38, you must file your Notice of Appeal within 30 days after the entry of your judgment with the trial court. If you do not file your Notice of Appeal before the prescribed deadline, you may lose your right of appeal.

After filing your Notice of Appeal, your attorney must obtain the record on appeal, including the transcripts of your trial and sentencing proceedings. Your attorney will scrutinize the transcripts to detect any errors in your sentencing. 

  • The way the sentencing judge exercised their discretion

  • The seriousness of the offense committed

  • The proper application of sentencing guidelines

  • The personal circumstances of the offender

  • The sentences given in other similar matters

For the Court of Appeals to grant your appeal, it must find that your sentence is substantively unreasonable. A sentence is considered substantively unreasonable when it exceeds the maximum sentence mandated by law or the sentencing guideline range. 

Where the sentence is found to be substantially unreasonable, the Court of Appeals may correct the sentence or order a new trial.

Strickland Webster, LLC Can Help You Effectively

Representation by an experienced appeal lawyer in Atlanta, GA, can significantly improve your chances for a successful appeal. At Strickland Webster, LLC, we are dedicated to helping those unjustly sentenced appeal to higher courts.

With our commitment to providing intelligent, passionate, and effective representation, you can find peace of mind knowing we’re working for your best interests.

Reach out today to schedule a free initial consultation and take the first step toward a favorable outcome.