Once someone in California or elsewhere has gotten on the wrong side of the law, they can find it difficult to receive a fair hearing if they find themselves in court again. The court will often view a person who has a prior record of convictions as an example of recidivism, which can lead to harsher sentencing. This implicit bias can make it impossible for repeat offenders to get a fair trial, and as a result they may receive aggravated penalties.
For individuals in Sacramento and surrounding areas, avoiding this scenario will mean discovering defense strategies that will protect their rights and possibly lead to sentence reduction, probation, or deferral of sentencing.
Aggravated charges and heightened penalties
A prior conviction of the same or a different crime can result in much more severe penalties for individuals, and the longer the rap sheet, the more difficult it will be for them to receive equitable treatment. Where a first-time offense would carry misdemeanor penalties, a repeat offender may face enhanced felony charges.
In using prior records as guidance for sentencing, the courts will often give repeat offenders the mandatory minimum penalty every time, as well as the maximum fines or prison sentence. The court system regards repeat offenders as hardened criminals who do not learn from past mistakes and so must receive the maximum penalties.
Possible options to aggravated penalties
The court will look at how many convictions are on the individual’s record, how recent they are and how serious the offense. When facing the possibility of aggravated penalties, the defense team may try to work out alternatives such as:
- Deferred entry of judgement (DEJ), also called a pretrial diversion program, which is a plea deal that allows the individual to avoid a trial that can result in conviction. By pleading guilty or no contest to charges, the judge will defer sentencing in exchange for the individual’s completion of alternative rehabilitative actions, such as community service or completion of an educational program.
- Probation, which is an alternative to prison, allows the individual to serve out their sentence by living and working in the community under supervision and with the guidance and support of friends and family.
California law allows a DEJ in cases where the defendant has mental health problems. The court must approve a mental health treatment program, which the individual must complete within two years. A DEJ may also be possible if the defendant meets certain criteria and for some misdemeanor crimes, including minor drug crimes and nonviolent misdemeanors. If they complete the diversion program, charges will be dismissed and their record sealed.