Prince George’s County Sentencing

Without the assistance of a skilled attorney, you could be facing Prince George’s County sentencing for a crime that could be mitigated.

Sentencing in Prince George’s County: Misdemeanors Versus Felonies

For sentencing in PG County, there is a very unique distinction between the district and the circuit court. The district court sentencing usually goes on immediately after a trial. A person could ask for a deferred sentencing date, but that is rare. It is not always given unless it is something that has been designed or agreed to and the judge is willing to bind to that. Additionally, sentencing in the district court comes with minimums and maximums. The minimum is always zero. However, sometimes a person could not get a “perfect zero”, so they give the person a PBJ, which is probation before judgment. That is not a conviction. However, it is a period of time during which the person’s record could be reviewed. If they pick up any charges or if they violate a term of the probation, a judge may condition probation with community service or paying a fine. If they fail to do one of the things the judge asks them to do, they could strike that probation from them and find them guilty.

A person could also be found guilty and given a suspended sentence. If, for example, the maximum penalty in the person’s case was 60 days and the judge gave them 60 days suspended. They have them do 20 hours of community service and that is it, it could close the case out. Probation could be supervised or unsupervised. Penalties range up to ten years in the district court.

The judge could give someone all of it. A maximum sentence like that has not been given out in the district court in a long time in PG County, but people could have earned it. That degree of sentencing would be reserved for someone with a terrible record that seems to be insistently committing the same crime. A judge is looking to send a message not just to the individual, but to the community at large that they should not do this.

That is not the biggest issue in Prince George’s County. These judges are very mindful and tactful. Their sentences are usually done in such a fashion that the person pays back a little of what they have taken to the community by community service, a fine to remind them this came out of their pocket, and if it has to be time, the minimum number to send a message, not a maximum to overly burden an already-full detention center with someone who did not need to be put in jail.

However, if judges believe the person needs to go to jail, if that is the message they need to send them, they are going to tell the person. This particular jurisdiction is exceptionally brutal with information. The judge would tell someone exactly what they are doing. For people that is also comforting. It is not a surprise in any way. They get exactly what they believe they were going to get because of what the judge said to them. Some people accept that. Other people would not be happy. No one wants to go to jail. If a judge feels the need to do that, they would. However, instilling harsh jail times is not so often a part of district court, but very much a part of the circuit court. The district court is completely different from the circuit court. In the circuit court, there are sentencing guidelines. While the maximum penalty may be ten years, someone may have nothing on their record at all, so their guidelines may be P2P, which is probation-to-probation. Circuit court guidelines might recommend alleged offenders get a period of probation. They may be P2P, which is probation to two years. They may be one to five, one year to five years. They may be zero to six, which could be no time to six months. There are variables that go into these sentencing guidelines. It is done by computing the offense and the offense level. If it is a violent crime, the number goes up. If it is not, it stays down. If the person has any priors, the age of the priors as well any time that they previously spent could be in a court record and accordingly affect sentencing.

Judges may also ask for a pre-sentencing investigation. In these instances, judges want someone to do a background search about the person in two ways. First, investigators always go to the FBI to see if alleged offenders have any history. The most important piece in all of this is the person’s background. They are uniquely different from anybody else in the room and everybody else around. Investigating parties and courtroom officials might wish to know:

  • What is the defendant’s education?
  • Where did he or she grow up?
  • Where are they living?
  • Are they married?
  • Do they have children?
  •  What is their employment status?
  • Is there a drug problem?

These are pieces of the puzzle that are important, and judges like to have as much information as possible.

Depending on how relevant a judge may deem it, a judge may order a short-form or long-form PSI, which is a pre-sentencing investigation. If they do not need one, the attorney may be able to explain to the court who the person is, or at least they should present the person in a light that is very favorable. Ideally, any alleged offender would want this of their representative. Attorneys too want to be able to go into the courtroom very well-prepared with information about their client that they could convey to a judge to show that they are grounded in the community, trustworthy, reliable, and someone that the court could take a chance on. If they show a judge that someone is a trustworthy and reliable person, a judge might not feel the need to put them in jail.

They are going to weigh the person personally against the greater risk to the public. Judges ask if there is a public safety threat. If there is not, it gives more of a reason to trust the person. Jail does not have to be an option. Jail should never be the first option. It should always be considered after a number of factors, starting with what type of crime was committed, if there was a victim, are there priors, and what exactly is the type of criminal activity the defendant is being convicted of. Judges weigh all these pieces out one by one, and then they weigh the public safety threat risks.

If the court feels that there is a need to send a message or to punish someone, it has to weigh out how much and why. These are extremely important details and factors. That is why bigger cases, felony or even misdemeanor, sometimes are better served in the circuit court in front of a circuit court judge. In PG County, there are judges that hear out these pleas and look for resolutions.

If defendants have an agreement that they want a judge to bind to, meaning that they and the state have an agreement in place that the client has said yes to, and they want the judge to do exactly what the paper says, they have judges that would do that. There are other judges who would try to resolve cases that could be simply resolved by a fine, a night in jail, some community service, or driving school. There is a lot that could be done by being smart, but sentencing does not have to be something that puts them behind bars. 

Who Sentences People in PG County?

The judge always makes the sentencing decisions in PG County. A person may accept a plea from the office of the state’s attorney. The state’s attorneys may defer to the judge or they may recommend probation before judgment for one year. While the state’s representative does this, the defense attorney advocates for their client. The advocacy is always for no time. They never want their client to go to jail, but they may have an agreement in place that is for no jail, a smaller sentence, or a shortened term. However, they are all recommendations. Unless the judge says that they would bind to an agreement, it is just a recommendation. The judge would make the final decision. In cases in the circuit court where one has had a pre-sentencing investigation done, a third recommendation would be made. It is the state, the defense attorney, and the pretrial pre-sentencing.

Aggravating Factors that Could Impact Sentencing

Aggravating factors that could impact the sentencing are the things that lawyers hate the most. They could come from a number of fields. Attorneys ask if this is a crime of violence and someone has been injured, how bad is the injury? Is there someone who required surgery? Were there broken bones? Was someone in a coma? These are cases where defense attorneys have to fight these factors. Depending on how serious the injury, it could impact the severity of a sentence. If the injury was malicious and critical, it is nearly impossible to avoid jail.

Attorneys and potential clients have to be mindful of other things too. What was the interaction with the police? Did someone resist arrest, fight with the police, or injure an officer? Do they have priors? How recent? Are they on probation or parole in another matter? All of these factors come into play. The alleged victims always are able to give an impact statement and in doing so, could directly impact the degree of sentencing by a judge.

The arrest and charge could be something as simple as a traffic accident in which somebody was under the influence and another was injured because of this. Accidents happen, but had someone maybe not had any alcohol or drugs in their system, the accident and the injury could have been avoided. Other things that factor into that are beyond the control of the incident, but we all have the ability to have insurance. For instance, someone is uninsured. Someone may have lost money out of pocket or they lost out on work. Things to that effect have to be dealt with in the court, as well. Judges could order restitution with regards to medical bills and damages. If someone has broken into a victim’s home and stole something from them that could not be replaced or pawned a stolen item and could not get it back, defendants may find a sanction for that.

There are aggravating factors that could be expected like priors or unexpected like the damages to an individual. Attorneys have to contend with that. It is not that they have an answer, but they have to at least show some sympathy to it. Their client should be able to address that, like take the moment to apologize. Attorneys only make a recommendation to their client, but there are ways to mitigate some of the worst issues that are available.

Mitigating Factors that Could Impact Sentencing

Mitigation is an attorney’s best tool, and those who show their client’s best colors often get better sentences. While mitigating court sentences is not an exact science, there are things that attorneys may want to show a judge, like community grounding. Is their client married? Do they have children? Do they participate in the community? Are they religious or non-religious? Are they involved in a club or in community service and outreach? What is the level of their involvement?

What is it that attorneys could tell the court about the defendant being a part of the community? It shows grounding. Who are they? Are they educated or not educated? Are they employed or unemployed? If it is drug or alcohol-related, have they gotten an assessment? A general assessment would show if this is a social construct issue or if this is a serious matter that needs a little more than just alcohol education. Could this be something where a mental health evaluation would get them further assistance?

These are mitigating factors. If it is an alleged violent act, even an attempt prior to sentencing could help. If this was just an issue in the community, did they do community service? Attorneys start their mitigation with that and then address the incident that happened. If they lose at trial or take a plea, attorneys want to have some form of explanation for the judge–show compassion, show that they understand, be contrite, and apologize.

Some judges are just looking for people who look like they owned it. For example, they had a DUI, they did a class, and they did some AA meetings. From day 1, they had their lawyer, they showed up on time, they looked professional, and they were serious. If it is a drug case and it has been a problem for years, but they are doing things to clean them up, like going to meetings and classes, and they got their shirt tucked in and their pants on, they showed up on time, they look presentable in court, and they are handling themselves, then they are in charge, not the addiction.

If they could not make a promise or tell the judge that it would never happen again, certainly an attorney would have trouble doing that for a client. But, saying they are in control, doing these things, and keep doing them is a plan to make good decisions. If attorneys are going to mitigate for their client, the mitigation should be about the client. Otherwise, they are a name and a number on a piece of paper. It is very easy for the courts to put someone they do not know in jail and discard a piece of paper easily. People are people, no matter the choices they have made. An attorney could bring them into a new light for the court.

Penalties for Misdemeanor Crimes in Prince George’s County

Depending on what someone is charged with, there are maximum penalties for misdemeanor crimes in Prince George’s County. The minimum is always zero.

What Are the Penalties for Assault Misdemeanors?

If it is an assault in the second degree, which is a misdemeanor assault, the maximum penalty is ten years. A person could get ten years, but they could also get no time at all. They could get probation before judgment.

DUI Misdemeanors

A DUI is a maximum of one year. A DUI per se is one year. A DWI is 60 days.

Disorderly Conduct Misdemeanors

Disorderly conduct and failure to obey law of order have maximum numbers.

A person never has to do the maximum. They could do the bare minimum. A person does not have to be found guilty. They could be given probation before judgment. When someone is in the district court, they are there for a reason. It is because the charges they have received are not felonies or the limited list of felonies that are allowed to be there such that they could be handled in a district court setting in front of a district court judge.

There are some advantages to the district court in that it is the first court in a chain of progressively more serious courts. The first court of impression is great. If someone is going to have a trial there on a 50-50 case and they lose, they are going to feel it. They could ask for a stay on any sentence. The district court judges are more likely to put someone on probation. If the person complies with the order of probation, they do not go to jail. They are also more inclined to give someone less jail time, not more, because the majority of the cases in the district court are not as serious.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you find yourself facing a charge, you need the help of an attorney familiar with Prince George’s County sentencing and penalties. A dedicated attorney could help mitigate the severity of your sentencing. Reach out today.