Criminal sentencing is the legal consequence that a person faces when they have been convicted of a crime. It is up to a judge to determine what each individual’s punishment will be by the seriousness of the crime, amongst other things.

Sentencing is essential because it not only punishes a criminal for acting unlawfully; sentencing also helps to discourage the general public from committing crimes in the first place. There are several ways to sentence a person. Most commonly, people consider it to be the process in which the judge sends someone to jail or prison.

What Types Of Crimes Require Jail Time?

There are so many crimes that can result in jail time. First of all, crimes are identified in two ways, as misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are the lesser offense but more serious than a traffic citation – like a parking ticket. However, once a court classifies a crime as a misdemeanor, it will most likely be punishable by no more than a year in jail.

Misdemeanors can be a variety of crimes, based on laws of each jurisdiction. Traditionally, the following crimes are commonly classified as a misdemeanor:

  • Assault and battery;
  • Driving under the influence (DUI) or Driving while intoxicated (DWI);
  • Theft and larceny;
  • Gun possession; or
  • Drug charges, like possession of marijuana or prescription drugs that were not prescribed to you.

A felony is the most serious crime a person can commit, and, more often than not, these crimes lead to incarceration. Incarceration is a legal term used when we generally talk about a person being sentenced to jail or prison. Felonies are punishable by no less than a year in prison but could be as long as a life sentence or even the death penalty. Not that the incarceration for a felony involves time spent in a prison, not a county jail.

Common felonies include:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Larceny
  • Burglary
  • Robbery
  • Rape

Sometimes, crimes can be categorized as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the criminal act severity. For instance, any misdemeanor that results in another’s death would most likely be tried as a felony. As you can see from the lists above, larceny is categorized under misdemeanor and felony. Depending on the value of the items stolen, a court could prosecute either way when someone commits larceny.

For example, while Emily is mowing her lawn, she notices her neighbors across the street have left their bicycle propped up against the house. She looks around to make sure no one is watching and takes the bike, valued at $200. This is most likely a misdemeanor.

However, if Emily instead noticed her neighbors left their laptop on the porch, and when no one is around, she takes it, valued at $2,000. Because most courts have found a theft value greater than $1,000 to equal a felony charge, this would most likely be a felony.

Is Jail Time Different For State and Federal Sentencing?

It is important to note: different courts and communities apply sentencing laws differently. One major difference is between federal courts and state courts. Each state can generally decide what sentencing regulations and limitations they want to follow because each state can create their own laws.

Federal Courts must follow the same guidance, no matter which state the federal courthouse is located. In fact, Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act and created the United States Sentencing Commission to ensure Judges are fairly sentencing individuals to reflect the crime committed. Of course, federal judges still have discretion in sentencing, but Congress enforced a minimum and maximum sentence standard.

What Is the Difference Between Jail and Prison?

Jail and prison are words that are often used equally. The difference, however, comes down to the time spent in each location. Jails are smaller local holding areas, usually under the control of the city or county. The time spent in jail is short, less than a year. It is typical for a person to only be in jail while waiting for their trial or sentencing.

Prisons, on the other hand, fall under the power of the state or federal government. Some prisons are privately owned by corporations but used by the government to house incarcerated people. Prison serves for a more extended period, usually more than a year, but as much as a life sentence.

When a person is convicted of breaking state law, they are sent to state prison, in the state where they were on trial. When someone is found guilty of breaking federal law, they can be sent to any federal prison. Again, jail time is usually reserved for misdemeanor crimes, while prison time is ordered for felony charges.

Do I Need a Lawyer For Help With Criminal Sentencing?

If you are concerned with sentencing laws in your area, you should contact a local criminal attorney. Your attorney can then explain how criminal sentencing works and provide you with legal advice, guidance, and representing you in your specific case.