If someone is found guilty of a crime, they will subsequently seek the appropriate legal repercussions for their actions. The trial’s phase that establishes guilt or innocence is distinct from this, which is referred to as the sentencing phase. There are various levels of potential criminal punishments since there are many different kinds of crimes, from small infractions to major felonies.
Penalties might include everything from fines and community service to lengthy jail terms and, in certain cases, even the death sentence (such as the death penalty). Depending on where you are and how each jurisdiction determines its own criminal sentencing rules, you may receive a different sentence if you are found guilty. Here is a brief explanation of the American criminal justice system.
For almost 20 years, federal judges were obligated to adhere to particular guidelines when imposing sentences on offenders. Federal sentencing guidelines are a set of regulations that provide a range of jail terms and fines based on the type of crime committed and the offender’s criminal history. With just a few exceptions, the punishment has to fit within the guidelines’ allowed range.
The Supreme Court, however, ruled in 2005 that the guidelines’ requirement of compliance was unconstitutional. The court’s ruling had two significant outcomes. The federal sentencing guidelines were reduced to being solely advisory. As a result, sentencing decisions are now at the discretion of federal courts.
The Supreme Court’s ruling also has another important consequence: since judges now have a choice when it comes to punishment, their choice must be rational. As a result, a sentence may be challenged and reviewed by the next court. Both the prosecution and the defendant have the right to appeal the ruling.
According to recent surveys, most judges’ rulings still adhere to federal sentence standards. The sentencing procedure now has some justice thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Who Determines the Terms of Someone’s Sentence?
Every accused person is entitled to a trial by a jury of their peers under Constitutional law. This right is exclusively unalienable for the guilt/innocence phase of criminal proceedings, which are divided into the guilt phase and the punishment phase.
Most of the time, the judge presiding over the trial makes the final decision on someone’s sentencing. Cases involving the death penalty stand out as an exception to the rule since the jury is present during all trial stages.
How is a Criminal Punishment Determined?
Every state, as well as the federal court system, has unique sentencing guidelines. These principles enable the judge to consider various mitigating and aggravating circumstances before imposing a sentence once a defendant has been found guilty of the crime.
Certain types of evidence that cannot be introduced during a trial’s guilt/innocence phase may be introduced during the sentencing phase. For instance, a defendant’s prior criminal history cannot be used to prove that they are more likely to have committed the crime since doing so unfairly prejudices the jury against the accused.
A judge will consider several additional criteria before deciding on sentencing. Evidence from a person’s prior criminal history is admissible during the trial’s sentence phase. First-time offenders are more likely to receive a favorable penalty than repeat offenders. The judge will also consider the offender’s contribution to the crime. Were they the primary character or just a prop? Were they coerced or improperly induced to do the crime? Of course, the offender’s demeanor plays a significant role in the chosen penalty. Judges are less likely to be forgiving if the crime was committed in a violent, vengeful, or cruel manner.
What Kinds of Punishments Could Be Given for Crimes?
Criminal activity has always been categorized as either malum in se or malum prohibitum. The former was used to classify less serious crimes like jaywalking when it was against the law in the city, while the latter was used to classify intrinsically bad acts like murder and torture. Illegal sentencing criteria have changed due to the complexity and intricacy of criminal behavior in the modern world.
Minor offenses, such as misdemeanors and disorderly conduct charges, fall into the lower category and may result in fines, probation, community service, or even brief jail terms. Felonies are serious offenses that typically result in years in prison. Last, the death sentence, the most severe penalty imaginable, is still permitted in 30 American states.
What Situations Qualify as Mitigating or Aggravating for Sentencing Purposes?
A prospective sentence can be made more severe or less severe depending on several factors, including the nature of the offense and the background of the accused. As was already indicated, while repeat offenders may receive a longer sentence, first-time offenders frequently receive punishments on the lower end of the statutory recommendations.
Another important element is aggravating circumstances at the time the crime was committed. For instance, most jurisdictions automatically increase the severity of the accusation if a robbery is carried out with a firearm in the person’s possession.
If someone is found guilty of a crime, aggravating circumstances could make punishment more severe. For instance, if a person is given a prison sentence, the term of the punishment may be extended. This would entail that the offender serves longer in prison than they otherwise would have if there were no aggravating circumstances. Or, if the defendant must pay a fine, the aggravating circumstances may dramatically raise the fine’s amount.
The prosecution, beyond a reasonable doubt, must establish an aggravating element. So, one approach to prevent the prosecution from bringing up aggravating elements during sentencing is to vigorously refute the prosecution’s argument that such a factor exists.
For instance, the accused might seek to dispute the prosecution’s evidence and strive to have it excluded by claiming that it is not admissible for several different reasons. Due to the fact the evidence was obtained by an illegal search or seizure, it might not be admissible. Or, some evidence may not be allowed because it is hearsay. A defense counsel would want to investigate every possible avenue for excluding evidence.
Lastly, even if aggravating facts are established, the defense may still present mitigating circumstances to mitigate the aggravating circumstances and lessen the penalty. Any situation relating to the offense or the defendant that would lessen the defendant’s sentence is a mitigating factor.
The guilt of the defendant, their lack of a past criminal record, the small part they played in the crime, their drug addiction, and hopefully their efforts to overcome it are some examples of such elements. Mitigation considerations are any elements that lower the defendant’s level of responsibility.
Does the Plea Bargain I Negotiate Affect My Sentence?
Plea bargaining is a frequently employed tactic by both the prosecution and the defendant. A plea agreement may be utilized for various reasons, not just when the offender is requested to testify against another person in exchange for a reduced sentence. The state frequently employs plea bargaining to keep the legal system running smoothly since criminal dockets are frequently overburdened.
So, is your sentence automatically imposed if you accept a prosecutor’s plea offer? No, not always. Judges are not required to follow the prosecutor’s suggested sentence based on the plea agreement. However, most judges rely on the prosecutor’s expertise and will impose the recommended punishment.
Do I Require a Lawyer for Criminal Law Matters?
A criminal charge is a serious matter that can alter someone’s life’s trajectory. The penalty could include steep fines, jail time, and possibly a lifelong criminal record if found guilty. Get in touch with a skilled criminal defense lawyer if you are accused of a crime as soon as possible.
A local attorney will be familiar with the particulars of the criminal law in your state because each state has different laws. They will defend your rights at every turn and can also advise you on the best course of action.