A prison sentence often seems like the death knell in criminal defense. Since sentencing occurs after conviction, the natural feeling is that you have made your case and lost it, therefore justifying the sentence. This would be even more so in cases where appeals have been exhausted.
However, you should know that it is not all cases that a prison sentence is justified. Even when conviction may have been rightly reached based on the available facts and evidence at the time, a prison sentence may be excessive and unjustified. This may be due to the sentence being at odds with relevant sentencing guidelines or applicable laws.
Unfortunately, very few people recognize this or make any moves to take advantage. Being faced with a guilty verdict or even a guilty plea does not necessarily finish your defense. You may still have options and opportunities to improve your outlook and secure a better outcome.
With the professional assistance that we can provide at National Legal Professional Associates (NLPA), we can help you achieve a more positive resolution to your case. For over 30 years, we have assisted individuals in your positions and their lawyers to find and utilize the options open to them under the sentencing laws.
Do not take your guilt and sentence as a given. Under the right circumstances, you may be able to shorten or even overturn excessive sentences and secure a better outcome. This article explains what options are available to shorten excessive prison sentences in the US.
The time within which a sentence reduction must be requested
Most states in the US stipulate a time frame within which an application to reduce a sentence can be made. These applications are often referred to as motions, and they all fall within the category of post-trial motions.
Typically, the required time frame often varies. The state may require these motions to be filed within days, weeks or months after the trial, or even a specific number of years. For instance, under Florida’s Criminal Procedure Code Rule 3.800(c), a motion to reduce sentence must be filed within 60 days after the end of the trial. In Ohio, a post-conviction petition must be filed within 180 days of the date on which the transcript of your case was filed for an appeal. Or if you did not appeal, within 180 days of the last day, on which an appeal should have been filed.
It is important to keep in mind that there are several special remedies that might be available to convicted persons after sentencing. However, exploiting these rules will depend on your case coming within the very specific rules and time limits they often have.
The consultants at NLPA, who were trained at some of the best law schools in the US, thoroughly understand these rules and their time limits. We can advise you or your lawyer on what they entail and what to watch out for.
Types of post-trial motions that can be filed on your behalf
There are several specific remedies we can research and exploit on your behalf. When you contact us, we will discuss with you and your lawyer to determine which of these best suits your case and provides the best chances of a positive outcome.
The remedies that may be utilized to reduce an excessive sentence include the following:
Withdrawal of a guilty plea
We can help you research and draft a motion to withdraw your initial guilty plea. The motion can generally be filed in cases where you feel you were not treated fairly in regard to your plea.
Although courts tend to view this motion unfavorably, due to the possibilities of abuse, there are several circumstances where it would be justified.
- If the initial plea of guilt was coerced either through physical, emotional, economic or psychological means, it may be withdrawn through a post-trial motion. In this case, we would be arguing that the initial plea was illegal and may be able to push for a new trial or acquittal.
- A guilty plea may be withdrawn where the plea was obtained through deceit on the part of prosecutors. For instance, where you were provided incomplete information at the time of making the plea.
- The motion may also be filed where the prosecutor failed to adhere to the terms of the plea agreement. This may be the case where the sentence sought was harsher than what was promised by the prosecutor in exchange for the plea.
- Where the initial trial was conducted by a lawyer who did not provide competent advice befitting a criminal trial, we may also be able to file this motion.
Motion for a new trial
A motion for a new trial requests a trial judge to retry the case. Usually, the motion is brought before the same judge who presided at the trial and is only granted for very specific reasons, including where:
- New evidence that could be significant to the case has just been discovered
- There was a significant error in handling the case in the initial trial
- The trial was tainted by jury or prosecutorial misconduct. For instance, if there was outside contact with a jury member during the trial, the motion may be sought.
Keep in mind that there is usually a very short time within which this motion must be filed. It is typically filed within days or weeks of the conclusion of the trial and until the motion is disposed of, no other motions may be filed.
Motion to reduce a sentence
Most states preserve the right of a convicted and sentenced defendant to request that the judge reconsider the sentence. The motion is usually filed strictly for a reconsideration of the sentence that was imposed. It does not dispute the guilty verdict reached by the court.
The motion may be filed in a number of circumstances including the following:
- Where new sentencing reforms are introduced. For instance, after the Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia barred the execution of the “intellectually disabled” in 2002, more than 83 individuals condemned to die had their sentences reduced over the next 11 years.
- If some new factor is discovered that was not initially considered during trial and sentencing, a motion may be filed. However, the factor must be one that would have had an impact on the sentencing had it been considered at the time.
Cooperation or assistance with a case
A defendant may offer cooperation or assistance to the prosecution in regard to their own case or another. When such assistance is provided, the defendant may be able to get their sentence reduced, provided the assistance they have given is “substantial”.
Under Rule 35 of the US Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the motion can only be brought by the government and it must be made within one year of sentencing. However, the motion may be brought after one year of sentencing if:
- The information provided by the defendant was not known until a year or more after sentencing;
- The information was provided within one year of sentencing but did not become useful until much later; or
- The defendant possessed the information much earlier but could not have anticipated its usefulness until much later, and the information was promptly provided after its usefulness became apparent.
A defendant may also be released on a motion for compassionate release. The motion is usually filed in cases where the defendant is aged or facing imminent death and is considered to pose no threat to the public.
Currently, all states in the US, except Iowa, have a framework for compassionate release. However, the procedure is typically under-utilized due to the rigorous processes involved.
We can help you thoroughly research the state-specific procedures, isolate likely issues with regards to your case and how they may be resolved.
Take your future into your hands today
A prison sentence is not the end of the world or your defense. Depending on the circumstances of your case, there are several specific remedies you may be able to utilize. Contact us today and let us put our unique expertise to work for you and your lawyer.