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Types of Criminal Sentences

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What are the Different Types of Criminal Sentences?

When issuing a sentence in a criminal case, a judge has much discretion to prescribe penalties that are appropriate to the crime.  Judges and jurors must follow basic criminal sentencing guidelines so as to avoid sentences that are unconstitutional. 

The following are some of the different types of criminal sentences, as well as various phrases and terms used in connection with criminal sentencing:

  • Concurrent Sentences:  These are multiple sentences that are served at the same time as a result of earlier proceedings.
  • Consecutive or Cumulative Sentences:  These occur when a person is convicted of more than one count.  Each of the charges must constitute a distinct crime or offense.  The sentences may be “tacked” onto one another, so that each term begins once the previous one expires.
  • Deferred Sentence:  This is a type of sentence wherein its execution is postponed until a later specified time.
  • Determinate or Fixed Sentence:  This is a general sentence for a fixed amount of time, not generally subject to modification or adjustment
  • Final Sentence:  This is final sentence rendered that puts a complete closing to the criminal case.  Final sentences are often imposed to replace an “interlocutory” or “interim” sentence, which is a temporary sentence while further analysis is being conducted.
  • Indeterminate Sentence:  Instead of stating a fixed sentence, this an open-ended sentence declares that the sentencing period shall be “not more than” or “not less than” a certain amount of time.  Indeterminate sentences are typically granted through state statutes.
  • Life Sentence:   Also known as life without parole, the convicted defendant must spend the remainder of their life in prison.  Often used as a descriptive phrase in reference to the seriousness of a case.  Some states have three strikes laws that prescribe a mandatory life sentence for a third conviction for a serious crime.
  • Mandatory Sentence:  These represent a sentence in which the judge has little or no discretion to adjust the time period.  It usually means that alternative sentencing or probation is not allowed.  Also governed by state statute.
  • Maximum Sentence:  Describes the maximum amount of time that a convicted person can be held in custody
  • Minimum Sentence:  Describes the minimum amount of time that the person must spend in prison, after which they can sometimes be eligible for parole.
  • Presumptive Sentence:  State statutes may suggest an appropriate or “normal” sentence that is associated with a given crime.  Presumptive guidelines help judges to determine a sentence after reviewing all the relevant factors. 
  • Straight or Flat Sentence:  Basically a fixed sentence with no maximum or minimum associated with it.
  • Suspended Sentence:  May either refer to:  postponing the pronouncement of a sentence after a conviction; or, postponing the enforcement of a sentence after it has already been pronounced.   

Do I need a Lawyer for issues with Criminal Sentences?

If you are facing criminal charges, it is to your benefit to consult with a criminal lawyer.  As you can see, there are a variety of different criminal sentences, which can sometimes be confusing to understand.  Working with a criminal attorney can help you review the possible outcomes in your situation.  Criminal lawyers are skilled at helping defendants avoid a sentence, or they can assist with obtaining a reduced sentence.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 06-24-2018 08:19 PM PDT

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