How Does a Judge Decide on a Sentence?
In most instances, a sentence will be imposed by a sentencing judge. A judge will rely on a pre-sentence report to craft a sentence which is specific to each defendant. A pre-sentence report is a comprehensive document which will include the following information:
- Information regarding the crime committed
- A victim impact statement
- Defendant’s prior criminal history
- Defendant’s history of drug use and mental disorders
- Defendant’s family and social history
The sentence will be imposed at a sentencing hearing. At the hearing, both the prosecution and the defense will be presented with the opportunity to speak about the possible sentence. After hearing both arguments and any new evidence, the judge will impose a sentence that will not be greater than necessary to punish the defendant and protect the interests of the community.
Mandatory and Discretionary Sentences
Most crimes will involve the judge imposing a discretionary sentence. This means that the judge is free to impose a sentence that she feels the defendant deserves. Many criminal laws will assign a minimum and a maximum sentence to a crime. The judge can use her discretion and sentence the defendant to any amount of time within that range.
In some instances, the legislature has stepped in and created a mandatory sentence. For these crimes, the judge has no discretion and must impose this sentence regardless of whether the judge wants to impose a more lenient sentence.
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Types of Penalties Available
Many different types of penalties exist when sentencing a defendant. A judge may impose one or several of the following:
- Jail or prison time
- Restitution – Defendants may be forced to repay their victims for any financial loss that the victim incurred as a result of the crime.
- Fines and court costs – These will be in addition to any restitution imposed
- Probation – Probation may be imposed instead of or in addition to jail time. A person will be required to obey state and federal rules and report weekly to a probation officer
- Drug treatment or anger management – A judge may require a defendant to attend treatment classes.
- Death – In the most serious cases such as murder, a judge may impose a death sentence.
The actual outcome of a particular case will depend heavily on the personal characteristics of the defendant and of the particular crime. Additionally, sentencing may also depend on previous negotiations that occurred between the prosecution and the defense.
To discuss the possible outcomes of a particular case, contact Mario Madrid at 713-877-9400 for a free consultation.