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Sentencing error in your favor: Collect 10 days in jail

Imagine that a Virginia court convicts you of marijuana trafficking. The judge sentences you to 10 years in prison, and five years of supervised release. However, during your five-year release period, you violate your parole by accident.

The punishment for your parole violation is supposed to be 10 months in prison, but the judge makes a mistake and sentences you to just 10 days in jail. You can't believe your luck, a 10-month sentence that you'll serve in under than two weeks!

However, the judge identifies his error and organizes a resentencing hearing. During the resentencing, you receive the full 10-month sentence and an apology from the court for its mistake.

Fortunately, you have an excellent criminal defense lawyer on your team. You appeal the resentencing and win. The 10-day sentence will stand.

Is this even possible?

This is a rare circumstance but, yes, the exact same thing happened to a 46-year-old in Feb. 2017. A federal Appeals Court decided that an Alexandria Circuit Court judge's mistaken sentence shall remain in effect, even though he intended to sentence the man to 10-months.

In a nine-page ruling, the Appeals Court said that the court could only modify its sentence if the error came about due to a technical, arithmetical or another clear error. The Appeals Court further ruled that the 10-day sentence did not appear to be an "obvious error that we have suggested is correctable."

The Appeals Court, also graciously considered the following beneficial facts about the sentenced man's good behavior during parole:

  • He was steadily employed.
  • He had clean drug screenings.
  • He completed his substance abuse program.
  • He paid regular child support to his daughter.
  • His substance abuse problem - which may have led to his criminal conviction - stemmed back to an early age.

Finally, the Appeals Court said that the 10-day sentence was not entirely unreasonable. It finally stated that if it allowed the lower court to resentence the man, it would be undermining the integrity, fairness and reputation of the judicial process.

Hope for the criminal justice system

It is easy to make a mistake and violate parole, and the punishments are stiff for such a violation. Punishments are also exorbitant for a non-violent drug offense. Considering this reality, many Roanoke County and Virginia defendants may feel that the criminal process is unfair.

Nevertheless, there are times - like in the instant case - where the courts reveal their unbiased fairness. Having a criminal defense lawyer on your side can help to ensure that courts are fair and unbiased. With the assistance of a lawyer, Roanoke defendants may be able to improve their legal situations considerably.

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