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Types of criminal sentences

If you've been convicted of a crime, the sentencing hearing is where criminal sentences will be determined.

If you're convicted of a crime, the judge will decide your sentence during a sentencing hearing. The actual sentence will depend on the crime and the specific circumstances of your case.

What's the difference between a criminal charge and a criminal conviction?

If the state or government has probable cause to believe that you committed a crime, a prosecuting attorney will file criminal charges against you on their behalf.

A criminal charge is a formal accusation against you for the commission of a crime, while the criminal conviction is a formal decision of guilt.

A jury can find you guilty of a crime after a trial, or you can admit to the crime by pleading guilty without going to trial.

What happens if I am convicted?

If a jury finds you guilty, or if you plead guilty to an offense, you will have a sentencing hearing. This hearing is where the judge will determine what punishment your conviction carries.

The sentencing hearing could happen within a few weeks of your conviction, or months, depending on the circumstances of your case.

What happens at the sentencing hearing?

The judge will listen to recommendations about what type of sentence you should receive. The judge will hear from the prosecuting attorney, your defense attorney, and from a probation officer who will have conducted a pre-sentence interview with you.

You will likely also have the opportunity to speak to the judge yourself. The judge may also allow other people to speak to the court, such as your family members, or victims of the crime.

The judge will take many factors into consideration when determining your sentence. However, their decision must follow the statute you're convicted under. Also, the judge often must consider other sentencing laws, such as sentencing guidelines.

What are sentencing guidelines?

The United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines provide a policy for sentencing defendants. This policy is based on both the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history.

Federal criminal cases do not require judges to follow the sentencing guidelines exactly. However, judges still must consider the guidelines when making the sentencing decision.

If the judge imposes a harsher or more lenient sentence than the guidelines recommend, the judge must provide an explanation of the circumstances that caused them to depart from the guidelines.

Some states use sentencing guidelines that are similar to federal policies, while others have their own sentencing laws.

What are the different types of criminal sentences?

The sentence you receive will depend on the crime you were convicted of. Common sentences include fines, community service, probation, rehabilitation, or jail or prison time.

What is probation?

Probation is an alternative sentence that allows you to stay in the community under court supervision for a period of time in place of serving a jail or prison sentence. Probation is normally available for less serious or misdemeanor offenses.

The terms of probation differ from case to case, but could include regularly meeting with a probation officer, submitting to drug tests, completing community service, and paying fines or restitution.

When are fines and restitution imposed?

If the convicting statute allows, judges could impose criminal fines payable to the government in place of jail or prison time. If your crime was against a person, the judge may also order that you pay restitution to the victim or victims to compensate for any harm.

When would community service be ordered?

While it's possible to receive a sentence of community service in place of jail time, judges most often order community service as a term of probation or other alternative sentencing.

Judges will also likely choose the type of community service, which may relate to your crime. The judge may allow you to choose your community service, but this will often require approval from the court.

When is rehabilitation offered?

Rehabilitation is usually offered for someone convicted of drug or alcohol-related crimes, or if the reason you committed the crime was due to an addiction or mental health problem. Rehabilitation may be a part of probation, or the judge could order it in place of jail or prison time.

When is a jail or prison sentence imposed?

Statutes provide for the amount of time that you could spend in jail or prison for the commission of a crime.

Judges will impose jail time if the sentence you receive is less than a year, usually for less serious misdemeanors. In contrast, prison sentences are usually available for crimes punishable by more than one year, which are typically violent offenses or other felonies.

The type of criminal sentence you could receive for a criminal conviction varies widely from state to state. Consulting with a criminal defense attorney in your state could provide you with a strong idea of the type of sentence you are facing.

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