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Criminal defense challenges judge’s sentencing discretion

The reassignment of a judge at the courthouse in Hillsborough County illustrates how the work of a criminal defense attorney may continue long after the conclusion of a criminal trial and the imposition of penalties at sentencing.

A Florida appellate court cited the trial judge for an abuse of discretion when he sentenced a man to 22 years in prison after a guilty plea to viewing child pornography.

The appellate court decision agreed with defense arguments that the penalties imposed by the judge at sentencing were not in line with the facts of the case. According to the record from the trial court, there was no evidence proving conduct on the part of the accused to support the long prison sentence.

This was not the first incident in which the judge's discretion had been called into question. Allegations have been made that he had also improperly intervened in the case of a man facing a criminal charge stemming from the shooting of a law enforcement officer. In that case, the judge revoked a bond that would have allowed the accused to be free pending his criminal trial.

Sex crimes, murder, drug cases and weapons charges are serious violations of criminal law that can result in severe penalties and long-term consequences in the event of a conviction. Developing a defense strategy in anticipation of the criminal trial and plea negotiation is only part of the responsibilities of the criminal defense attorney.

Sometimes a defense strategy might need to look beyond the trial court. When faced with an abuse of discretion on the part of a trial judge as occurred at Hillsborough County, taking the case to an appeals court may be the only remedy for an unjust criminal conviction or an excessive sentence.

Source: Fox 13 News, "Judge reassigned after appeals court overturns sentence," Gloria Gomez, Dec. 2, 2014

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