If you are convicted of a crime, you will be sentenced to some sort of punishment. Criminal sentences can take a variety of forms, including serving jail time, paying fines, and electronic monitoring.

Who Determines My Sentence?

In almost all cases, a judge will determine your sentence, not a jury. One of the few situations where a jury will determine your sentence is in death penalty cases. A judge cannot order the death penalty unless a jury recommends death instead of life in prison.

How Does the Judge Determine My Sentence?

The process varies between states and between the state and federal systems. In the federal system, judges must follow certain guidelines that set the appropriate time to be served in jail. These guidelines are like a chart, where the judge looks at what crime was committed and characteristics of the offender and finds the appropriate sentence length. Some states have similar procedures, but many others have ranges of jail time and the judge has discretion in choosing an appropriate sentence from within this range.

What Factors Does the Judge Consider in Determining My Sentence? 

There are many factors a judge can consider in determining what punishment is appropriate or how long you will be in jail. Some factors are:

  • Past criminal history
  • Whether you were the main actor in the crime or just a helper
  • Whether there were any outside pressures on you to commit the crime
  • Whether anyone was hurt during the crime

These are just a few examples of things a judge will consider in determining your sentence. It is important to note that while there may be "mitigating factors" (factors that call for a lesser sentence), there may also be "aggravating factors," which call for a more severe sentence.

What Are Enhancements?

Enhancements are like aggravating factors. They are factors that, if present, will lead to a more serve sentence. For example, if guns are used in the commission of a crime, this can be an enhancement that adds years to the sentence.

What about Plea Bargaining, Does that Determine My Sentence?

A plea bargain is essentially an agreement entered into by you and the prosecutor. While you may agree to a certain sentence, the prosecutor can only recommend that sentence to the judge. The upside is that the judge will usually accept the agreement. So, if you enter into a plea bargain, it will likely be your sentence.

Can I Appeal My Sentence?

Yes, it is possible to appeal your sentence after you have been convicted. Appeals are a complicated process and a lawyer who specializes in appeals will be able to provide you with the best advice and services.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The criminal justice system is very complicated. An experience criminal defense lawyer can advise you of your rights and defenses. Anytime you accused of a crime you should consult a lawyer as soon as possible.