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Judge modifies sentence in lacrosse player's murder case

Virginia residents are familiar with the trial of George Huguely V, the former University of Virginia lacrosse player who was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his onetime girlfriend. The case has received national attention ever since prosecutors charged Huguely with the crime.

Late last month, the sentencing phase of the case came to a conclusion, further focusing public attention on an interesting aspect of Virginia criminal law. The jury recommended that Huguely serve a term of 26 years in prison. In many jurisdictions, judges are ordinarily given the authority to modify sentences at their discretion.

But that ability is slightly restricted in Virginia, where the judge's power is partially limited by the sentence a jury pronounces. Under our state's law, judges are not permitted to raise the sentence recommended by a jury. They can lower it, however, and that is what the judge did in Huguely's case. The judge reduced Huguely's sentence from 26 to 23 years.

In addition, Huguely will have to serve out at least 85 percent of that term. Sentencing rules typically provide that a person can be released early from custody depending on whether the person has behaved well while in prison and other considerations.

While legal and crime shows tend to emphasize the trial portion of a case because it provides dramatic opportunities for scriptwriters, for those defendants who are convicted at trial, sentencing is a very important part of the case. Far from a formality, a sentencing hearing gives defendants a final chance to be heard and present their case why they merit less than the full punishment.

Source: The Washington Post, "George Huguely V sentenced to 23 years for Yeardley Love murder," Mary Pat Flaherty, Aug. 30, 2012

• Preparation for sentencing hearings is an essential part of a criminal defense. If you would like more information on our firm, please visit our Virginia Beach criminal defense page.

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