In a criminal case, the judge will prescribe the defendant a criminal sentence if they are found guilty. However, many people don’t know that a criminal sentence can be modified well after the trial is done, even if the offender is already in jail. This is known as “criminal sentence modification” and may actually be required in certain circumstances. It typically results in a reduction of the criminal sentence.  

When is Sentence Modification Available?

A modification of a criminal sentence is only available in certain instances, not for all cases. Sentence modification may be necessary when:

  • An error was made in the sentence and needs to be corrected
  • The defendant has assisted in another criminal case by cooperating with prosecutors to provide information or testimony
  • Other factors can be applied, such as a sentence reduction based on the offender’s age, terminal illness, or changes in state sentencing guidelines

How Can a Criminal Sentence be Modified?

During trial, the defendant may request a sentence modification at any time during the sentencing portion of trial. The defendant and their attorney will need to file a motion, and the judge will then conduct a hearing on the motion. In most jurisdictions, if the initial sentence is greater than 3 years, the prosecutor must agree to have the motion reviewed.

Once the motion is under review, the defendant must demonstrate that there “new factors” in existence that would justify a criminal sentence modification. “New factors” are facts or a set of facts that:

  • Are unknown to the trial judge at the time they imposed the original sentence
  • Frustrates the aim or goal of the original sentence
  • Are not in existence at the time of sentencing
  • Are unknowingly disregarded by all parties

If the judge concludes that the new factors are in the defendant’s favor, they have discretion to modify the sentence accordingly. This can result in the sentence being corrected, modified, or reduced depending on the facts of the case. Or, the judge may prescribe alternative sentencing methods if the defendant is eligible (i.e., community service, house arrest, etc.).

How Can a Criminal Sentence be Modified Under Rule 35?

Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows a judge to reduce or modify the sentence of a defendant who provides information that leads to the investigation or prosecution of another person. This occurs when two defendants committed the same crime and one defendant can get a lighter sentence even after sentenced if they provide valuable information to law enforcement for the prosecution of another.

Can a Criminal Sentence Be Appealed?

Criminal defendants can appeal convictions, but they cannot really appeal sentences unless the sentence is considered to be illegal, unconstitutional, or unreasonably excessive. For example, the defendant can appeal a sentencing if the judge hands out a sentence that exceeds the maximum punishment allowed for the crime. Once appealed the appeals court can modify the original sentences given to the defendant.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Criminal Sentence Modification?

Criminal sentence modification can occur for various reasons, and can even happen after the trial is over. If you need legal assistance, it is to your advantage to hire a qualified criminal lawyer. Your attorney can help determine whether criminal sentence modification is available for your case, and can help you file the proper motions and requests.