The sentencing phase of the criminal process is what comes after you have been found guilty at trial or pleaded guilty. The sentencing hearing itself is where a judge ultimately decides what penalties you will face.
While the goal is to avoid a conviction entirely, it’s important to understand the Washington sentencing guidelines so you know what’s at stake. For help fighting your charge and avoiding sentencing altogether, reach out to the team at Will & Will.
Types of Criminal Penalties
In Washington, there are three classifications of crimes:
- Felonies. This is the most serious type of criminal charge you can get.
- Gross misdemeanors. These can also be crimes with a significant impact on your life, but they are not serious enough to warrant felony charges.
- Misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are reserved for minor offenses like petty theft and failing to disperse when a police officer gives the order.
Felonies are further broken down into classes A, B and C (Revised Code of Washington, Section 9A.20.010).
- Class A felonies. These are the most serious crimes, such as murder and rape in first or second degree.
- Class B felonies. These are still serious but somewhat less so than Class A felonies. Examples include car theft and manslaughter.
- Class C felonies. These are the least serious felonies. They include assault in the third degree and theft of electronic data.
The Washington state felony sentencing guidelines determine how long you might have to spend in custody for each class of felony.
The Washington State Sentencing Guidelines
If your case enters the sentencing phase, a judge will refer to the Washington sentencing guidelines to decide the penalties you will face. The guidelines include the Washington state sentencing grid (Revised Code of Washington, Section 9.94A.510). This is a table that shows the seriousness level of a crime and the corresponding amount of time in jail or prison.
There is also an annual publication of the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines Manual that further elaborates on specific sentences for all felony charges in Washington State. Deciphering exactly what you are looking at with these guidelines is not a straightforward task and you are best off consulting with a seasoned attorney to fully explain what you could potentially be facing.
Judges generally stick to these guidelines quite rigidly. There are relatively few exceptions where a judge will go above or below these guidelines. That said, many offenses have a range of sentences so putting together a thorough mitigation packet and defense sentencing memorandum is vital. For instance, judges will take into account factors like your level of remorse, what you have done to improve things since the offense, character reference letters, community/family support, your criminal history, your job and the impact of your crime on the victims.
There are also a variety of sentencing alternatives that are potentially available as well. What alternative you may be eligible for, if any, depends on a number of circumstances.
Deferred and Suspended Sentences
The Washington sentencing guidelines allow for deferred and suspended sentences. These options can provide an alternative to traditional sentencing that is much less harsh.
A deferred sentence in Washington state is often part of a plea deal with the prosecutor and they are only an option for gross misdemeanors or simple misdemeanors. In exchange for your guilty plea, you are found guilty but placed on a period of probation. This period cannot exceed two years (Revised Code of Washington, Section 3.66.067).
If you complete all the requirements the court sets, the court may allow you to take back your guilty plea. Then, you can enter a plea of not guilty and get your charge dismissed.
An important note is that a dismissal after a deferred sentencing is not the same as vacating or expunging your record. This is a separate action that must be taken a period of time after the dismissal.
Suspended sentences are very similar to deferred sentences in most respects. The biggest difference is that the conviction will ultimately stay on your record a little longer (assuming it is eligible to be vacated in the first place).
Facing a Criminal Charge? Call Will & Will
The Washington sentencing guidelines can be confusing, especially if this is your first time facing criminal charges. Fortunately, an experienced lawyer can help you understand the Washington state sentencing grid. And, more importantly, the right lawyer can help you avoid sentencing altogether.
The trusted defense lawyers at Will & Will know how scary this time is for you. And we have the experience and knowledge to give you the best possible shot at staying out of prison. With more than 35 years of combined experience and countless happy clients, we have what it takes to help you.
To claim your free consultation with a lawyer, call 206-209-5585 or contact us online.