A criminal sentence is not always determined by a judge. With a determinate sentence, a judge punishes an individual convicted of criminal activity according to the statute or law describing the punishment. If a defendant is sentenced under determinate sentencing and received a sentence of six months in prison, they would be required to complete the entire six months before being released from prison. However, a defendant may not have to serve the full six months if they are given an indeterminate sentence instead.

What Is Indeterminate Sentencing?

Certain felony crimes allow the judge to choose what sort of punishment that the defendant will face. Indeterminate sentencing is a punishment option that gives the convicted person a range of years that they may serve. For example, the convicted person may be sentenced to 10 to 25 years for a crime. The person would have to complete at least a minimum set by the judge before being released from prison, but they may not have to serve the maximum number of years set.

Is an Indeterminate Sentence Used in Less Serious Crimes?

No, an indeterminate sentence is usually used only for felonies, and only when it is permitted by law.

Who Determines When I Am Released from Prison?

A parole board will meet to review a person’s sentence. The review happens periodically and only when the person is eligible for parole. An example of an early release occurs when a person is sentenced to 20 years to life. A parole board will begin to review their sentence after have have spent 20 years in prison.

What Is the Goal of an Indeterminate Sentence?

The goal is for the individual serving time to show progress while serving time in prison. Showing progress consists of:

  • Taking account for the crime they were convicted of
  • Any aggravating or mitigating circumstances involved in the criminal act
  • Good conduct while in prison
  • Efforts towards rehabilitation

Are There Any Drawbacks to an Indeterminate Sentence?

One potential problem with this type of sentencing is that it puts too much power in a parole board’s hands. Many critics of indeterminate sentences claim that it leads to discriminatory and arbitrary results which keeps minorities and prisoners without family in prison.

Do I Need to Talk to an Attorney about Indeterminate Sentencing?

An indeterminate sentencing is complex because the range of time you spend in prison is in flux. Talk to a criminal attorney about your criminal case if you think that you may be facing an indeterminate sentence.