How Will My Sentence be Decided?
As you might imagine, the sentence you receive depends heavily on your individual case. The type of crime you've committed, the sentencing guidelines or statutory recommendations for the crime, and your criminal history are probably the three most prominent factors a judge will consider when determining your sentence. Sentencing is generally broken up into four different categories: fines, community service, probation and jail or prison time.
After you are found guilty, a judge will first look at the sentencing guidelines or the crime statute itself to determine the recommended sentence. The basic difference between a misdemeanor and a felony lies in the sentencing: A misdemeanor usually carries six months or less of jail time, while a felony will generally carry more than six months of prison time as a recommended sentence. While judges cannot adhere to sentencing guidelines or statutory recommendations without considering other factors, they are often required to provide good reason for a deviation either upward (more severe) or downward (less severe) from the sentencing guidelines.
Nearly every state now has mandatory minimums for certain types of crimes, mostly those involving drugs and/or firearms. In these cases, no matter what the extenuating circumstances may be, a judge has no choice but to sentence a defendant as the law requires. Similarly, there are often mandatory minimum sentences for people who have been convicted of their third felony-level crime. This type of law is generally known as the “three strikes” rule, and rests on the assumption that people who repeatedly commit serious crimes should receive stiffer penalties.
There are mitigating factors that a judge will consider when determining your sentence. Working in your favor may be the fact that you have no history of prior convictions, that you were merely an accessory to a crime, or that no one was (or was likely to have been) injured. Alternatively, judges generally will come down harder on someone who has a list of prior convictions, has used a dangerous weapon during the commission of the crime, or has intended to hurt someone.
Having a good attorney is crucial in any criminal proceeding. He or she will be able to work with the prosecutor and present evidence to a judge in an effort to get you the least severe sentence possible, given your circumstances.
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