Stages Of A Criminal Case Sentencing

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During the sentencing phrase of a criminal case, the court determines the appropriate punishment for the convicted defendant. Sentencing comes after the deliberation and verdict by a jury, following a jury trial, or after the presentation of the evidence in a bench trial. If it is a jury trial, the jury is not involved in determining the defendant's punishment; sentencing is left solely to the judge.

For minor offenses and crimes, such as a minor misdemeanor or infraction, the sentencing will follow immediately. In more serious or complex criminal cases, however, the sentencing judge will require more time and information to determine the appropriate sentence. For these kinds of cases, the judge will solicit advice from various people, including the prosecution, the defense attorneys, and the probation department, which will make recommendations in a prepared pre-sentence report. To compile this report, the pre-sentence investigator will compile a history of the defendant, outlining his or her criminal record, educational background, employment situation, family and community ties, and physical and mental health. Witnesses and police testimony, as well as the defendant's own testimony, will also be included.

The final sentencing set forth may depend on these and other, case-specific, factors. The judge may also consider the nature of the crime or crimes that were committed, their direct and indirect impact on the victims, and any remorse or regret expressed by the defendant. Victims may be allowed to testify, either in court or through a letter to the court, about the impact of the crime or criminal act upon their life.

There are many sentencing options. Less serious crimes may result in a fine. Many states have limitations on the amount that can be assessed, depending on the crime committed. Probation may be an option as well. Probation is the release of an individual on agreed terms that require appropriate behavior and actions by the convicted criminal. Community service, rehabilitation, and short jail sentences or a combination are also common for less serious crimes.

More serious crimes require stricter sentences. For example, a criminal who is convicted of murder or rape will likely face either life in prison or the death penalty. Also, a judge may sentence a person convicted of a very serious crime to life in prison without the option of parole. On the other hand, some sentences will allow for the option of parole after the convicted criminal has served a certain amount of years. Some states in the United States have banned the death penalty as a sentencing option for convicted criminals.

Other sentences may actually result in a suspended sentence. This means that even though a judgment has been rendered, the convicted person will remain at liberty unless he or she does not abide by the terms of their sentence, at which time they could be ordered to serve out the remainder of the probationary period or face a harsher sentence.

Another result could end with the payment of restitution to the crime victim, or with the mandatory completion of a rehabilitation program. If the crime was drug or alcohol related, the judge may order that the defendant seek treatment, counseling or education for substance abuse. Similarly, someone convicted on a domestic violence charge may be required to undergo anger management therapy.