You have chosen to take your case to trial. And at the end of the trial, the jury returns a verdict of guilty.
It's heartbreaking. As an attorney, it's the worst feeling in the world. But for an accused person, it's devastating. It feels as if your whole life is over.
What happens now?
If you are charged with a misdemeanor and you have no prior criminal history or very few prior arrests, the likelihood of being sentenced to jail is slim. Most judges will give probation sentences when a defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor. For misdemeanors, you will be sentenced on the spot. Unless you were charged with a second or third DUI, or you have significant prior criminal history, you will probably not be sentenced to jail. If you do have a prior record or it is a second or third DUI, you will likely be sentenced to some jail. DUI convictions within specific periods of time require mandatory jail time. Make sure you discuss these mandatory penalties with your attorney prior to going to trial.
If you are found guilty of a felony, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled for a future date. If you are already in custody, you will remain in custody pending your sentencing.
If you are out of custody, you may be remanded into custody right there in the courtroom. Your attorney may be able to successfully move the Court to allow you to remain on bond pending sentencing. Your attorney can even file a Motion for Supersedeas Bond so that the Court can grant you a bond pending your appeal. This is by no means a requirement, but it is always worth a try.
If you are found guilty of a felony, you may very well be going to prison. If your offense carries a mandatory prison term, there may be little the Judge can do other than sentence you to the mandatory minimum term.
Again - make sure that you fully understand the penalties you are facing before making the decision to go to trial.
If the crime was non-violent and you have no prior criminal history, the Judge may opt to sentence you to probation instead of jail or prison. Just because you are found guilty of a felony at trial does not mean that your life is over. For instance, if you have no prior criminal history and you are charged with stealing $800 worth of goods from a department store (Grand Theft 3rd Degree), and you were offered Pretrial Intervention before trial, after a guilty verdict, a Judge may very likely impose a withhold of adjudication and sentence you to a term of probation. However, not all Judges go easy on defendants post-verdict so make sure you understand your Judge before going to trial. Ask your criminal defense attorney if he or she has practiced before that particular Judge.
After a guilty verdict, you will want to begin thinking about your appeal. You will also need to think about getting your affairs in order (business and family obligations) in case you are sentenced to prison.
Going to trial is a big decision and not one to be taken lightly. Discuss all options with your attorney, including what plea agreements may be reached, prior to going to trial.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving South Florida.