Criminal Sentencing

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 How Do Judges Decide on Sentencing?

Once a defendant is declared guilty, sentencing begins. Courts have a structure in place when assigning sentences to crimes. Congress has ordained the minimum and maximum punishments for crimes, and the judges follow these for the sentencing.

There are various sentencing guidelines recommending certain punishments for certain crimes while examining various factors. Besides the factors, the judge will review reports and consider statements from the victims, the defendant, and lawyers.

The factors that a judge will consider are:

  • The criminal history of the defendant;
  • Did the defendant relay regret for the crime committed and;
  • Examine the nature of the crime.

All states have regulations regarding the death penalty and when it applies in criminal cases. Generally, the death penalty applies to capital offenses such as murder, treason, or genocide. You can research the local state laws to know when the death penalty applies and for what offenses.

But unlike other punishments, a jury must decide whether to impose the death penalty. However, recently many states have decided not to use the death penalty. But the federal government may still use it as prescribed in the laws.

What Is the Severity of Sentences?

The American Bar Association states, “The legislature should ensure that maximum authorized levels of severity of sentences and presumptive sentences are consistent with rational, civilized, and humane values.” Regarding sentencing, there should be a balance between the gravity of the offenses and the societal purpose of achieving them.

The sentence should be just and overwhelmingly exceed the societal standard it is meant to achieve. The severity of the punishment should be determined by weighing these matters.

Furthermore, typically felony sentences are held in Superior Court. A sentence can be a combination of probation, home confinement, halfway house, prison, and other special conditions. Depending on which state you reside in and what the laws stipulate, generally, the sentencing hearings take place 60 days after the conviction.

But, some sentencing can be held immediately. Victims of certain crimes may speak at the sentencing hearing, and the hearing is open to the public. Consult with your lawyer to know your sentencing rights and obtain more information.

What Are Appeals?

Every defendant has a right to appeal their conviction regarding aspects of their case. Usually, appeals make claims addressing the violation of due process. This implies that there was failure made during the arrest, investigation, or trial. Once the court receives the appeal, there are several matters that they could consider.

Most of the appeal work is accomplished then written legal briefs without hearings in court. Remember that if the defendant has accepted a plea agreement and did not go to trial, they have no right to an appeal.

Moreover, the defendant may also file a motion for sentencing reduction, which must be filed promptly according to the local state regulations. The courts can grant a motion for sentence reduction as needed, case by case. You can request to be notified of any sentence alterations.

Some states have a program in place referred to as the Truth in Sentencing. It is a guideline for exceptional rehabilitation. After reviewing the case, the Department of Correction can petition the court to change an offender’s sentence. Each state will have more information on this program or others similar to it. But, victims do not have the right to appeal through the court process if they are dissatisfied with the decision of the prosecutor, jury, or judge.

What Are The Four Basic Types of Sentences?

There are most basic types of sentences available for offenders in each scenario:

  • Incarceration;
  • Probation, supervised or administrative;
  • Fines and;
  • Combination of the above.

The common one is referred to as incarceration or jail sentences. All crimes have a designated amount of jail time attached to them. Once the case is tried and convicted, the judge can sentence a defendant to a determinate or fixed sentence.

The sentence can be determined depending on the seriousness of the crime and where it falls in the class category. Each state varies on this. If a defendant has multiple charges or cases, a judge will specify if the terms are to be served at the same time together or back to back.

Moreover, judges take into account any positive behavior while in prison. They may potentially decrease a sentence depending on the case. There are certain crimes that once you complete a certain amount of time, you will automatically be eligible for parole. You may not have to serve the entire term as long as you remain dutiful to your sentence.

You can research the local laws regarding serving your time and when parole will be applicable. Generally, a person sentenced to prison immediately receives “good time” up front. But remember that not all sentences have this, especially if that sentence carries a mandatory sentence for its penalty.

For example, a first-degree sexual assault of a child charge carries a 15-year mandatory minimum. So if the judge sentences someone to 20-30 years, the person will have to serve 15 years before earning any good time before being eligible for parole. Remember that a defendant must receive credit for any time spent in custody for the sentenced offense.

All offenders that committed crimes of a sentence of one year or less serve their time in county jails. However, anything more than that must be served at the Nebraska Department of Corrections prison. The courts will determine where a judge must serve their sentence, either in jail or prison.

The primary purpose of these penalties is to ensure the individual does not commit the crimes again. For this, a probation officer supervises a person to ensure they do not re-offend. Additionally, the court may assign certain conditions to prevent the crime from occurring again from that same offender. The judge wants to ensure that the individual will choose to become a law-abiding citizen.

The Intensive Supervised Probation (ISP) is highly restrictive and only be utilized when the penalty is six months in jail or more. It is considered an alternative to a prison term. Furthermore, the Specialized Substance Abuse Supervision (SSAS) program also has extremely restrictive probation for inmates dealing with substance abuse issues. For these scenarios, probation may last up to two years on misdemeanors or up to five years on a felony.

As stated before, this is determined through case-by-case and what state you reside in. However, if an offender violates probation, a judge can revoke or re-sentence the person. Furthermore, the judge can take away their right to have probation.

It is crucial to remember that when a court imposes a valid sentence, it cannot be modified, amended, or revised by the trial court. There is a period between the sentence taken into effect and when it is announced.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

Criminal sentencing varies in your jurisdiction and the type of crime you committed. There are different types of criminal sentencing, and if you have any questions regarding your case, contact a local criminal defense lawyer for further assistance. Your attorney can provide you with legal representation for your case.

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