State and federal penal codes both prescribe maximum sentences for certain types of crimes. If your sentence exceeds the maximum allowed by federal or state law, your attorney may employ several defense strategies to have your sentence modified, or even vacated.
Appealing a Sentence
A sentence handed down by the trial court judge may be appealed to the higher courts if it is arguably unconstitutional, exceeds the prescribed maximum sentence or is otherwise excessive. In most cases, this is the post-trial strategy most commonly used and most likely to be effective. Your attorney will appeal the sentence with a written brief detailing the terms of the sentence and explaining how it violates current codes or guidelines. If the appellate court judges agree, they may remand the case back to the trial court to implement corrections and to modify your sentence. In some cases, if circumstances warrant, they may vacate the sentence completely, at which point a new trial may or may not be recommended.
If standard appeals have run their course and are ineffective, and if you are currently imprisoned, your attorney may challenge the legality of your imprisonment more directly by filing a Petition for Habeas Corpus. This petition makes the claim that you are being held without just cause, and details the reasons for this claim. If the judge agrees that your imprisonment may be questionable, he/she will issue a Writ of Habeas Corpus mandating the prison guard to bring you back to court for a review of the terms of your imprisonment. If it can be shown you are being held illegally, you must be released.
In addition to these post-trial remedies, there may be other strategies and motions applicable to your case that your attorney may recommend if your sentence violates federal or state law. For more information, consult your attorney.