Can a Judge Impose a Sentence Without Allowing Me to Present Evidence First?
When charged with any state crime, you have certain basic constitutional rights. This includes the right to be present during all “critical stages” of your trial, from arraignment to sentencing. Indeed, not only do you have the right to be physically present in the courtroom–you also have the right to meaningfully participate in what is taking place, even when it is done through your attorney.
Defendant Receives Fourth Sentencing Hearing Due to Trial Judge’s Errors
A Florida appeals court recently had to remind a trial judge of the defendant’s rights with respect to the meaningful participation. The case, Wilson v. State, has actually yielded two trips to the Fifth District Court of Appeal. Originally, the state charged the defendant with seven criminal offenses. The parties negotiated a plea agreement, under which the defendant would not receive a sentence of more than 25 years in prison.
The trial court held a sentencing hearing, after which the judge issued a final sentence that did not conform to the plea agreement. The defendant then tried to withdraw his guilty plea. The judge denied that request, but he did conduct a new sentencing hearing at which he amended his original sentence to conform to the 25-year cap contained in the plea deal. Still dissatisfied, the defendant appealed to the Fifth District in 2017, arguing he should have been allowed to withdraw his guilty plea altogether.
The appeals court did not allow the plaintiff to withdraw his plea. But it did order a third sentencing hearing, as the defendant was not present when the trial court conducted the second hearing. The Fifth District made it clear: The judge was to “resentence [defendant] while he is present.”
The trial judge conformed with the letter, if not the spirit, of the Fifth District’s ruling. The defendant received a third sentencing hearing. But he was not allowed to testify or present any witnesses. The trial judge explained he already conducted a full sentencing hearing the first time around and there was no need to hear the evidence again. The judge then proceeded to impose his third sentence, which was largely the same as the second sentence.
Again, the defendant appealed. And again, the Fifth District said the trial judge did not do his job properly. This time, the appeals court explained that it was not enough for the defendant to simply be in the room when the judge went through the motions of imposing a sentence. The defendant was entitled to a new hearing–not a hearing where the trial judge “relied on its recollection of evidence presented at the previous resentencing hearing.” The Fifth District therefore remanded the case a second time so the defendant could receive his fourth sentencing hearing.
Speak with a Florida State Crimes Defense Lawyer Today
When it is your life and liberty on the line, you have every right to expect trial judges to act professionally and in accordance with the law. An experienced Miami crimal attorney can help ensure the courts respect your rights. Contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today if you have been charged with a Florida crime and require immediate assistance.
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