When you are convicted of a crime, you may be facing time in either jail or prison. During this stressful time, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to keep that time as short as possible. 

When it comes to a criminal sentence, if you are proactive in the legal process on your behalf, there may be ways to reduce the time you spend away from family, friends, and freedom. Here are a few things you should know about reducing your sentence after a criminal conviction.

Timing: When Should I Ask for a Sentence Reduction?

So if I am convicted, what is the best time to start advocating for a more lenient sentence? The criminal justice system is divided into two phases: the trial (guilt or innocence) portion, and the sentencing portion if someone is properly convicted of the charges levied against them. It is during the sentencing term that you will have the opportunity to advocate for a more lenient sentence. 

To do this, you and your attorney will file what is commonly known as a “motion for modification of sentence.” Many states use this specific phrase, but some states will call it by another name. 

Once the motion is filed, the sentencing judge will set a hearing to allow you to make arguments about the merits of your request. For more serious crimes that carry longer sentences, the judge will often require that the prosecutor also sign off on a reduced sentence if they are inclined to grant your motion. It is vital that you file this motion before your sentence is final, as retroactive attempts to reduce them are rarely allowed. 

What can I do to Help Get a Reduced Sentence?

So what kinds of things help your case when seeking for a reduced sentence? One of the first that jumps to many people’s minds is being a cooperating witness for prosecutors. In this scenario, a person will agree to provide evidence or testify against another person to help the prosecution prove their case. In exchange, the prosecution can agree to give you a more lenient sentence. 

Another reason someone might see a change in their sentence is on grounds of compassionate release. If a prisoner is of extremely advanced age or terminally ill, they can have their attorney petition a criminal court for an early release. Every state has different sentencing guidelines for who can be eligible for compassionate release. Also, there are a few states that do not allow it at all, so check the laws in your jurisdiction first. 

What if the Law or Facts of My Case Change Afterwards?

As both the law and criminal sentencing guidelines evolve over the years, it is sometimes possible to change your circumstances as well. For example, many states are now changing both how to charge and sentence possession of small amounts of certain narcotics. If the sentence you have previously received is vastly different from current standards, you can petition to have it changed to reflect the new laws and guidelines. 

There is also the possibility that new information or evidence may surface after you receive your verdict and sentence that either exonerates you or substantially changes how you should have been charged in the first place. These are the few rare instances where the timing guidelines mentioned above may not apply. 

Is It Possible My Sentence Was Illegal?

Perhaps, but this is rarely the case. This happens when the conviction is valid, but the sentence is not. One way this can happen is when the sentence does not follow the proper law, for example, imposing a prison sentence in excess of what is allowed by the criminal code. 

Another example is if a person’s sentence does not follow a valid plea bargain properly negotiated and signed off on by the right people, the convicted person can petition to have the sentence thrown out. One of the rarest ways to have a sentence negated is to prove that the court who handed it down did not have jurisdiction over the case. In the end, it is very rare to see a sentence turned over on the basis of illegality. 

What are My Chances of Actually Changing My Sentence?

In most cases, the decision to change or reduce a criminal sentence often comes down to the decision of the judge. Whether you are advocating for compassionate release, a change based on sentencing guidelines, or another reason, presenting your case in the best light possible can help increase your chances of succeeding. 

Showing evidence of good behavior while incarcerated can also be of great help, as a judge is very unlikely to grant a sentence reduction to someone they feel is still a danger to the community.

Do I Need A Lawyer for Help with a Sentence Reduction?

Yes. Just like with all criminal proceedings, getting the expertise of an attorney is crucial. They can help you spot opportunities to reduce your sentence and know how to present your case in the best light. In the end, having the right advocate on your side can make all the difference.