Juries in the state of Virginia are given certain responsibilities, including deciding whether a defendant should be convicted. In many cases, a jury must also provide sentencing recommendations. Recently, in a highly publicized murder case involving a Virginia lacrosse player, the jury found the defendant guilty of a lesser charge and recommended an average-length sentence. Though the young man was charged with first-degree murder, the jury decided that he was only guilty of second-degree murder because it was determined that he did not kill with a premeditated plan or purpose.
The jury also found the defendant guilty of grand larceny. According to the state of Virginia, the charge of grand larceny is reserved for cases in which an item that is said to be stolen is valued at $200 or more. The defendant in this case was found guilty of taking the victim's laptop computer after her death. However, if an item is stolen directly off another's person, the property value must only exceed $5 for the charge of grand larceny to be filed. Since the laptop was valued at over $200, the defendant was charged with grand larceny.
Sentencing guidelines dictate that a second-degree murder conviction in Virginia must carry five to 40 years in prison. The recommended sentence for larceny is one to 20 years. While the jury in the case of the lacrosse player reportedly recommended the minimum one-year sentence for the larceny charge, along with a middle-of-the-road sentence of 25 years for the murder charge, the presiding judge is not obligated to follow the jury's recommendation. Attorneys for both the defense and prosecution will appear in court on April 16 to try to influence the judge's sentencing.
Ensuring due process and enforcing the letter of the law is the job of criminal defense attorneys. Though a not-guilty verdict is not always possible, the significant reduction of charges and sentencing can be its own kind of saving victory for many defendants.
Source: sbnation.com, "George Huguely found guilty: prison sentence to follow," David Fucillo, Feb. 22, 2012
Source: sbnation.com, "George Huguely trial: jury recommends 25-year sentence for murder charge," Russ Oates, Feb. 23, 2012