What Happens at a Felony Sentencing Hearing?

At a felony sentencing hearing, the judge takes input from the prosecution, the defense attorney and the defendant, says Nolo. The victim of the crime also can speak or make any views known at the sentencing hearing, and the judge may read written evidence as well.

For some sentencing hearings, especially those with the possibility of long imprisonment, the probation department typically prepares a presentencing report that the prosecutors and defense have a chance to argue over before the judge, says Nolo.

The prosecution tends to talk about the aggravating factors in the crime along with the defendant's past criminal charges, Nolo notes. The defense attorney tends to respond with reasons why the sentencing should be lighter. The defense can also point out mistakes in the presentence report. The defendant can talk if desired, and generally the defendant works with his attorney ahead of time to prepare his statement.

Victims have a bigger role in sentencing hearings than in years past, Nolo notes. The victim can talk about how the crime has impacted his life, the pain and suffering the victim has endured as a result of the crime, and outline other statements that say why the defendant deserves a certain punishment.