Understanding Sentencing: Comprehensive FAQ
At William Weinberg, we believe in providing our clients with the essential knowledge to navigate the complexities of the legal system. This guide addresses common questions regarding the judicial sentencing process once a defendant has been convicted.
- Who Decides a Convicted Defendant's Sentence?
- How Is the Punishment for a Crime Established?
- Are Similar Offenses Punished Equally?
- What Criteria Influence Judges' Sentencing Decisions?
- What Alternative Sentences Might My Lawyer Propose?
In most cases, the responsibility of sentencing lies with a judge, not a jury. This remains true even when the conviction results from a jury trial. Juries are typically instructed to focus solely on determining the defendant's guilt or innocence without considering potential punishment. However, there are rare instances, such as in some capital punishment cases, where the jury's recommendation plays a crucial role in sentencing, determining whether a defendant receives the death penalty or life imprisonment.
The punishment for certain crimes is often stated in the statute that defines the offense. For instance, a law might explicitly state the penalties for a misdemeanor offense, including a maximum fine and duration of imprisonment.
When specific punishments aren't defined directly within the statute that outlines the crime, they may be provided in a separate statute detailing penalties for misdemeanors or felonies in general. However, sentences may not always be clear-cut. For those who wish to understand the probable consequences if convicted, here are some steps:
- Schedule a consultation with a defense attorney from William Weinberg.
- Seek advice from a public defender.
- Inquire with friends or family who may have insights from legal professionals.
Consult with us directly at William Weinberg for a free, comprehensive review of your case.
While mandatory sentencing laws in some states impose fixed sentences for specific crimes, reflecting a drive to eliminate judicial discretion and equalize sentencing, federal mandates are now typically advisory rather than compulsory.
Absent mandatory laws, judges have the discretion to tailor sentences based on various factors, taking into account the individual's criminal history, the nature of the offense, and the defendant's contrition. Thus, while mandatory sentences prioritize consistency based on the crime, judges often focus on the individual circumstances of the offender.
When a judge has the discretion to set the sentence, the defense might present numerous mitigating factors that could encourage a more lenient sentence. Examples include:
- Limited or no prior criminal history.
- Secondary involvement in the crime rather than being the primary perpetrator.
- Commission of the offense under extreme personal stress.
- No harm or low likelihood of harm as a result of the crime.
Conversely, aggravating factors might lead to harsher sentences, typical examples being a history of similar criminal conduct or extraordinary cruelty in committing the offense. Certain laws specify aggravating circumstances that merit stricter penalties, such as the use of a weapon in the crime.
Yes, attorneys can indeed advocate for alternative sentences which may include probation, suspended sentences, victim restitution, or community service. Additionally, diversion programs might be an option for those charged with certain misdemeanors, particularly involving substance abuse.
At William Weinberg, we're committed to guiding our clients through these options and advocating for fair and just treatment under the law. For inquiries or to schedule a free consultation regarding sentencing or other legal matters, please contact us at (949) 474-8008.