Friday, February 1, 2008

What "Before the Court for Sentencing" Means

A court may not impose sentence for an offense unless the offense is before the court for sentencing. The matter of whether an offense is, or is not, pending before the court for sentencing often leads to considerable debate. As a general rule, an offense should not be considered as "pending" before the trial court for sentencing unless a verdict of guilt or a plea of guilty or nolo contendere has been obtained; offenses for which the defendant has entered a not guilty plea or denial, and is awaiting trial or a final hearing, are not considered pending for sentencing purposes.(1) One scoresheet must be used for every pending case that meets this definition.(2) As a corollary, a presumption then arises that sentencing should not be delayed merely because other cases that fail to meet this definition are pending against the same defendant in the same court.(3) In other words, a judge does not have to wait for disposition of a pending case before imposing sentence in a case that has been resolved by plea or trial.(4)

A broad exception to this rule is that defendants are allowed to move a trial court to delay sentencing so that a single scoresheet can be used in two or more cases pending against the same defendant in the same court at the same time, regardless of whether a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or a conviction has been obtained. The trial court must grant the motion when the defendant can show that the use of a single scoresheet would not result in an unreasonable delay in sentencing. For each sentence that would not be unreasonably delayed, the trial court must order simultaneous sentencing.(5) There is, however, no requirement that a trial court delay sentencing on a completed case while awaiting the outcome of future trials where it is only speculative that those other cases might be ready for disposition soon and where those cases in fact might not be ready for disposition for many months or years.(6)