DC Criminal Defense Lawyer

DC Criminal Charges and Sentencing


When you find out you’re facing criminal charges, one of the first things that goes through your head is the potential for serving time in jail. The possibility of being locked up is frightening indeed and is likely causing you a lot of stress.

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But even if you aren’t facing jail time for the offense you are accused of, other penalties abound. A permanent criminal record is nothing to scoff at—it can seriously impact your ability to get a job and even get approved for housing.

Knowing what you are up against won’t make the outcome any easier but it will allow you to handle the situation head-on.

Misdemeanor vs Felony Charges

One major way of classifying crimes is the distinction between misdemeanors and felonies. Felonies are considered the most serious of the two, while misdemeanors (though still criminal charges) are penalized less severely.

In general, a misdemeanor offense is one that is punishable by less than one year in a jail.

On the other hand, felonies are punished by more than one year. In the District of Columbia if you are sentenced to serve prison time for a felony, you may serve your time within the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Sentencing in DC Criminal Courts

For each criminal charge you are accused of, the judge is given a range of potential penalties from which to sentence you. Then, the judge uses the facts of the case, a presentence report, and several other considerations to determine where within this range your sentence will fall.

Example: A first time DUI offense under DC law carries up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine. But, this is your first offense and your blood alcohol level was .09%, just one percentage point above the legal limit. The judge could decide that this particular case warrants no more than the overnight you spent in jail on the night of your arrest, a small fine, and a substance abuse class.

See my DWI/DUI page for the additional penalties you may get from the Washington DC Department of Motor Vehicles.

Judges are given discretion in their sentencing of criminal offenses. This means they are given the freedom to use the information available to them and their professional knowledge and expertise to find an appropriate sentence that they believe is the best for your particular case.

There are other things that can change your potential sentence and divert it from what the law says is applicable for your original charge.

Deferred Prosecution/Sentencing

In some cases you may be eligible for a pre trial diversion. This is usually only the case when you have a clean criminal record and/or the charges against you are relatively minor.

In these cases you are referred to the probation department where you serve a period of probation. This may include things like abiding by a curfew, maintaining employment, reporting to a probation officer, and submitting to regular and random drug tests.

If you successfully complete this term of probation, the charges against you are dropped. If, however, you violate the probation, the charges can proceed as normal through the courts.

Plea Agreement

The vast majority of criminal cases in Washington DC and across the country end in a plea agreement. Also called a plea bargain, this resolution is considered a compromise between you, the defendant, and the prosecution.

The prosecutor may offer to reduce the charges against you or recommend a lenient sentence if you agree to plead guilty to at least a portion of the charges against you.

In these cases a trial is avoided for the prosecutor and you don’t end up serving the maximum potential sentence that may have been looming.

Presentence Report

If your case happens to make it all the way to the sentencing stage, whether at trial or following a guilty plea as part of a plea agreement, the judge will have many factors to consider in your sentence. One major piece of information used is called the presentence report.

This report contains numerous pieces of information that are collected beforehand by an investigating officer. The judge might learn about your employment status, your criminal history, and even your mental health history within the pages of this report.

Ideally, the report is designed to make it easier for the judge to determine the best sentence for you and to decide if you are a good candidate for probation (if that is an option).

There are many factors that can influence your potential criminal sentence. Contact my offices today for a free consultation on your case and a critical look at what penalties you may be facing.

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