Section 5.5: Sentencing

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In many places, it is up to the judge to decide what punishment to give to someone who has been found guilty of a crime. This can be a challenging task that involves following specific rules for sentencing. Depending on where you are, judges may have more or less flexibility in how they decide on a sentence. This is because each state has its own laws that set out the minimum and maximum punishments for different crimes.

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The law also provides different options for judges to consider when deciding what punishment is appropriate for a particular person who has been convicted. These options can include alternatives to jail or prison time, such as community service or probation.

Presentence Investigation

In many jurisdictions, before a judge hands down a sentence, a presentence investigation is required to take place. This investigation is usually carried out by a probation officer who is trained to gather relevant information about the person who has been convicted of a crime. The presentence investigation report is a detailed document that provides the judge with critical information to help them make an informed decision about the appropriate sentence for the convicted individual.

The report includes essential information such as the person’s education, employment history, criminal record, and the details of the offense they were convicted of (American Probation and Parole Association, 2015). The report will also assess the individual’s potential for rehabilitation, the presence of any personal issues such as addiction or mental health problems, and the impact these issues may have on their ability to lead a law-abiding life in the future (American Probation and Parole Association, 2015).

Based on the information gathered during the presentence investigation, the report will recommend a suitable punishment that the judge should impose. The report is a significant influence on the judge’s final decision because it provides them with a more complete picture of the individual’s circumstances and the factors that led them to commit the crime.

By using the presentence investigation report, judges can take into account the unique circumstances of each case and craft a sentence that is tailored to the individual’s needs. This ensures that justice is served fairly and the convicted person has the best possible chance of successfully reintegrating into society.

Victim Impact Statement

In many states, the harm caused by a crime to the victim is now taken into account when deciding on an appropriate punishment for the offender. Some states even allow victims to appear in court and provide testimony about the effect the crime has had on their lives. These testimonies, known as victim impact statements, are usually read out loud in court during the sentencing phase of a trial. This information can be valuable to the judge when determining the severity of the punishment that is warranted for the crime.

However, some criminal defendants have challenged the constitutionality of allowing victim impact statements to be presented in court. They argue that this process violates the Proportionality Doctrine requirement of the Eighth Amendment, which states that punishments should be proportional to the severity of the crime committed.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has found the admission of victim statements to be constitutional, provided that they are relevant to the case and do not violate the rights of the defendant.

By allowing victims to speak about the impact of the crime, the legal system can acknowledge their experiences and provide a more complete understanding of the harm that was caused. In some cases, it can also help the victim to gain closure and feel like their voice has been heard. Additionally, taking into account the impact on the victim can help to ensure that the punishment is appropriate and that justice is served.

The Sentencing Hearing

In most areas, after a person has been found guilty of a crime, a sentencing hearing is held to determine the final punishment for the convicted individual. During this hearing, the prosecutor will often recommend a sentence on behalf of the public.

Depending on the jurisdiction, the prosecutor may also defend the recommended sentence in the presentence investigation report. This report is a detailed document that provides information about the convicted individual, including their criminal record and any other relevant factors that may impact the judge’s decision.

The convicted person has the right to an attorney during this phase of the process. This lawyer can advocate on behalf of the individual and help to ensure that the sentence is fair and just. Additionally, the convicted person has the right to speak to the judge before the sentence is given. They may use this opportunity to express remorse for their actions, explain the circumstances that led to the crime, or ask for leniency in the sentence.

The sentencing hearing is a crucial part of the criminal justice system. It ensures that the punishment fits the crime and takes into account any mitigating or aggravating factors that may impact the sentence. By giving the convicted person the opportunity to speak to the judge and by having an attorney present, the legal system aims to ensure that justice is served fairly and justly.

Influences on Sentencing Decisions

When deciding on a sentence, judges usually consider two main factors. The first factor is the seriousness of the offense. This can include things like the nature of the crime, the harm caused to any victims, and the level of intent involved in committing the crime. Generally speaking, the more serious the crime, the harsher the punishment will be.

The second factor is the presence of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances. Aggravating circumstances are factors that make the crime worse or more serious. These can include things like committing a crime for profit, harming vulnerable victims, or having a history of committing similar offenses. Mitigating circumstances, on the other hand, are factors that make the crime less serious. These can include things like showing remorse for the crime, having no prior criminal record, or having a difficult personal history.

The presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances can have a significant impact on the severity of the sentence. Judges must consider all relevant factors when determining the appropriate punishment for a crime. This can involve weighing the seriousness of the crime against any mitigating circumstances and deciding how much weight to give to each factor.

The process of determining a sentence can be complex and requires careful consideration of all relevant factors. By taking into account the seriousness of the offense and the presence of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances, judges can ensure that justice is served fairly and that the punishment fits the crime.

When deciding on a sentence, judges must consider a variety of factors in addition to the seriousness of the offense and the presence of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances. These factors can include the defendant’s criminal history, their level of involvement in the crime, and the impact of the crime on any victims or the community as a whole.

Research has shown that prior criminal history is a significant factor in determining the severity of a sentence. A study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice found that the length of a sentence was strongly associated with the defendant’s prior criminal history (Bales & Piquero, 2012). Defendants with a more extensive criminal record were more likely to receive longer sentences, even after controlling for the seriousness of the offense and other factors.

Another relevant factor is the defendant’s level of involvement in the crime. In cases where multiple people were involved in committing a crime, the severity of the sentence may be affected by each person’s role. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology found that when multiple people were involved in a robbery, those who were more actively involved in the crime received longer sentences (Kunst & Nagin, 2018).

The impact of the crime on any victims or the community can also be a relevant factor in determining the severity of a sentence. In cases where the crime caused significant harm to others or had a broader impact on the community, judges may opt for a harsher sentence. For example, in cases of hate crimes or terrorism, the impact on the targeted group or society as a whole may be a significant factor in determining the severity of the sentence.

Overall, determining the appropriate sentence is a complex process that requires careful consideration of many different factors. By taking into account the defendant’s criminal history, level of involvement in the crime, and impact of the crime on others, judges can ensure that justice is served fairly and that the punishment fits the crime.

Concurrent versus Consecutive Sentences

When a person is charged with multiple crimes, it is not uncommon for the prosecutor to seek an indictment on all charges. These can be different offenses, such as robbery and assault, or a repetition of the same offense, such as multiple counts of fraud.

Once a person has been convicted on multiple counts, the judge must determine how the sentences will be served. In many jurisdictions, judges have the discretion to order that the sentences be served concurrently or consecutively.

A concurrent sentence means that the sentences for all of the charges will be served at the same time. For example, if a person is sentenced to five years for robbery and three years for assault, they will serve a total of five years in prison because the sentences are being served at the same time.

In contrast, a consecutive sentence means that the defendant must serve the sentences one after another. Using the same example as before, if a person is sentenced to five years for robbery and three years for assault, they will serve a total of eight years in prison because they will serve the five-year sentence for robbery first and then the three-year sentence for assault.

The decision to order concurrent or consecutive sentences can have a significant impact on the severity of the punishment. When sentences are served concurrently, the total length of time served may be shorter than if the sentences were served consecutively. On the other hand, ordering consecutive sentences can result in a longer overall sentence and may be seen as a more severe punishment for the defendant.

Overall, the decision to order concurrent or consecutive sentences is a complex one that requires consideration of many different factors. Judges must weigh the severity of the offenses, the defendant’s criminal history, and other relevant factors when making this decision. By taking into account all relevant factors, judges can ensure that justice is served fairly and that the punishment fits the crime.

Types of Sentences

When a person is found guilty of a crime, the court must determine an appropriate punishment, known as a sentence. In the United States, statutes at both the state and federal levels specify the possible punishments for various crimes. These punishments can include fines, community service, probation, or imprisonment. The length of the sentence depends on the nature of the crime and the jurisdiction in which it was committed.

The most important limit on the severity of punishments in the United States is the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment prohibits the government from imposing cruel and unusual punishments on individuals. This means that punishments must be proportionate to the crime committed and cannot be excessively harsh or degrading.

The interpretation of what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” has evolved over time. In some cases, punishments that were once considered acceptable have been found to violate the Eighth Amendment. For example, the use of the death penalty has been the subject of significant debate and legal challenges.

The Death Penalty

The death penalty is a controversial issue in many parts of the world, and in the United States, it remains a legal form of punishment in thirty-eight states and the federal government. However, the use of the death penalty is heavily restricted and is typically reserved for individuals who have been convicted of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances.

The death penalty is considered to be one of the most severe forms of punishment, and as a result, there are numerous statutes and case law that dictate how and when it can be used. One of the primary safeguards is an automatic review by higher courts. In cases where the death penalty has been imposed, appellate courts are required to review the case to ensure that the sentence was legally imposed and that there were no errors or constitutional violations during the trial.

Other safeguards include the requirement for a unanimous verdict by the jury in order to impose the death penalty and the right to appeal the sentence. In addition, the Supreme Court has established guidelines that restrict the use of the death penalty, such as prohibiting its use for certain groups of people, such as juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities.

Despite these safeguards, there continues to be significant debate over the use of the death penalty in the United States. Some argue that it is a necessary punishment for the most serious crimes, while others argue that it is immoral and that it violates fundamental human rights

The use of the death penalty remains a highly controversial issue in the United States. While there are many safeguards in place to ensure that it is used fairly and legally, there continue to be debates over its effectiveness, morality, and constitutionality.

Incarceration 

When a person is convicted of a crime, one of the possible punishments is the deprivation of their freedom through incarceration. In the United States, incarceration is the most common punishment after fines, and it is used to both punish offenders and protect society.

Jails are short-term facilities that are most often run by counties under the direction of the sheriff’s department. Jails are used for a variety of purposes, including housing those who are awaiting trial and are unable to make bail and convicted offenders who are serving short sentences or waiting for a space in a prison. While there is no set definition of what constitutes a “short sentence,” it generally refers to sentences of one year or less.

Prisons, on the other hand, are long-term facilities that either state governments or the federal government operate. Prisons are designed to house inmates who have been convicted of more serious offenses and are serving longer sentences. Most prison inmates are felons who are serving sentences of longer than one year.

The conditions in jails and prisons can vary widely depending on the location and the type of facility. However, in general, prisons are considered to be more secure and have stricter rules and regulations than jails. Inmates in both jails and prisons may have access to education and job training programs, as well as medical care and mental health services.

While incarceration is the most common punishment after fines in the United States, there is an ongoing debate about the effectiveness and fairness of this form of punishment. Critics argue that it can lead to overcrowding, poor living conditions, and a cycle of recidivism. Proponents, however, argue that it is necessary to protect society and deter others from committing crimes.

Probation 

Probation is a form of punishment that is often used as an alternative to incarceration. When a person is placed on probation, they are still considered to be convicted of a crime. Still, they are allowed to remain in the community under the supervision of a probation officer. While on probation, they must follow certain rules and restrictions. If they violate these rules, their probation can be revoked, and they may be sent to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.

The conditions of probation can vary depending on the nature of the offense and the jurisdiction in which the person is being supervised. Common conditions of probation include obeying all laws, reporting to a probation officer, paying any fines or restitution ordered by the court, not associating with criminals, not using drugs or alcohol, submitting to searches, and submitting to drug tests.

While probation can be an effective way to hold people accountable for their actions while allowing them to remain in the community, its heavy use has been controversial. Some argue that probation is being overused as a way to address prison overcrowding, leading to an excessive burden on probation officers and a lack of resources to properly supervise and support probationers. Additionally, there are concerns that probation can be overly restrictive, limiting a person’s ability to work, go to school, or participate in other aspects of daily life.

Probation remains a valuable tool in the criminal justice system for nonviolent offenders who are not a danger to the community and are willing to make things right. However, as with any form of punishment, it is important to ensure that it is used fairly and effectively to achieve its intended goals.

Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP)

Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP) is a form of probation that is similar to standard probation but with more rigorous conditions and closer supervision by probation officers. ISP is typically used for high-risk offenders who may require more intensive supervision than standard probation can provide. This may include individuals with a history of violent or serious offenses, those who are at risk of reoffending, or those who have violated the terms of their probation in the past.

The primary focus of adult ISP is to protect public safety by closely monitoring the offender and ensuring that they abide by the conditions of their probation. This may involve more frequent meetings with probation officers, stricter rules regarding where the offender can go and what they can do, and more frequent drug tests. The goal of ISP is to help reduce the likelihood of the offender committing another crime while on probation.

Many juvenile programs and an increasing number of adult programs also have a treatment component that is designed to reduce the chances of reoffending. This may include counseling, substance abuse treatment, education, job training, and other services that can help offenders make positive changes in their lives.

Despite the potential benefits of ISP, there are also concerns about its effectiveness and fairness. Critics argue that the increased supervision and stricter rules can be overly punitive and can lead to higher rates of probation revocation and incarceration. Additionally, there are concerns about the impact of ISP on communities of color and other marginalized groups, who may be overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

Boot Camps

Boot camps are a type of punishment that is designed to provide a military-style environment for young convicts, usually men, with the aim of instilling discipline and accountability (Braga et al., 2014). In these programs, offenders live in barracks and undergo rigorous physical training, including drills and exercise routines, as well as structured educational programs and counseling.

The duration of boot camps varies depending on the program, but they typically last from three to six months (Wilson & MacKenzie, 2006). During this time, participants are required to adhere to strict rules and regulations, and any violations can result in additional punishments or expulsion from the program (Braga et al., 2014).

The core idea behind boot camps is to provide a structured and disciplined environment that will teach wayward youths the importance of personal responsibility and accountability. The goal is to help participants develop the skills and mindset necessary to become productive members of society and to reduce the likelihood of reoffending (Wilson & MacKenzie, 2006).

Despite the popularity of boot camps among some reformers, research has shown little to no impact on reducing recidivism rates (Braga et al., 2014). Some studies have even suggested that boot camps may have the opposite effect, with participants actually being more likely to reoffend after completing the program (MacKenzie, Wilson, & Armstrong, 2001). Critics argue that the focus on discipline and physical training ignores the underlying issues that may have led to the participant’s criminal behavior in the first place, such as mental health issues, poverty, or lack of education (Braga et al., 2014).

Overall, while boot camps may seem like an attractive option for addressing juvenile delinquency, the research suggests that they are not effective in reducing reoffending rates (Wilson & MacKenzie, 2006). As such, alternative approaches that focus on addressing the root causes of criminal behavior may be more effective in promoting rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.

House Arrest and Electronic Monitoring 

The Special Curfew Program was a landmark program in the criminal justice system, as it marked the first use of home confinement as a form of punishment by the federal courts (Bureau of Justice Assistance, n.d.). The program was part of an experimental effort that involved collaboration between the Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Parole Commission, and the federal probation system. It was designed as an alternative to traditional prison placement for eligible inmates and allowed them to serve their sentences at home under certain conditions (Klein, 1991).

Under the Special Curfew Program, eligible inmates received an advance of up to 60 days on their parole dates. They were subject to a curfew and minimum weekly contact with a probation officer (National Institute of Justice, n.d.). The program was later expanded to include electronic monitoring, which allowed for more accurate tracking of participants and greater flexibility in the conditions of home confinement (Klein, 1991).

Today, many jurisdictions use house arrest as a form of punishment for offenders. The use of monitoring technology, such as ankle transmitters, has made it easier to enforce compliance with the conditions of house arrest and has contributed to the popularity of this punishment option (National Institute of Justice, n.d.).

In addition to curfews and electronic monitoring, house arrest may be coupled with other sanctions, such as fines and community service. Some jurisdictions also have a work requirement, where the offender on house arrest is allowed to leave home for a specified window of time in order to work (Klein, 1991).

While house arrest is generally considered a less severe form of punishment than incarceration, it is not without controversy. Critics argue that it is often reserved for wealthy or high-profile offenders and that the conditions of house arrest are not always strictly enforced. Additionally, there are concerns about the impact of house arrest on the families of offenders, who may be required to provide housing and support during the confinement period.

Overall, house arrest remains a popular alternative to traditional incarceration for eligible offenders, and advances in monitoring technology have made it a more effective and flexible form of punishment. However, as with any form of punishment, it is important to ensure that it is used fairly and effectively to achieve its intended goals.

Fines

Fines are one of the most common punishments for minor offenses and violations. They are often used for first-time offenders who are found guilty of minor drug possession, traffic violations, simple assaults, and other misdemeanors. However, if these fines are not paid according to the rules set by the court, the offender may be jailed. Critics argue that this system discriminates against the poor, who may be unable to pay the fine and are then punished with incarceration (Nellis, 2016).

To address this issue, some jurisdictions have adopted a sliding scale known as day fines. This system has been popular in several European countries, including Sweden and Germany. Day fines take into account the financial circumstances of the offender, calculating the fine based on two major factors: the seriousness of the offense and the offender’s daily income (Von Hirsch et al., 1999).

The European countries that use this system have established guidelines that assign points, or “fine units,” to different offenses based on the severity of the offense. The range of fine units varies greatly by country. For example, in Sweden, the range is from 1 to 120 units, while in Germany, the range is from 1 to 360 units (Von Hirsch et al., 1999).

Court personnel then determine the daily income of the offender, taking into account factors like family size and certain other expenses. The fine is then calculated by multiplying the daily income by the number of days assigned to the offense (Von Hirsch et al., 1999).

While day fines have been successful in addressing the issue of disproportionate fines for the poor, they are not without their own limitations. One challenge is accurately determining the daily income of the offender. There are also concerns about how to handle cases where the offender has no income or is self-employed (Nellis, 2016).

Overall, day fines have been a popular and effective alternative to traditional fining systems. They offer a fairer and more proportional approach to punishment by taking into account the financial circumstances of the offender.

Restitution

When an offender is sentenced to pay a fine, the money is paid to the state, not to the victim. In contrast, restitution requires the offender to pay money directly to the victim in order to compensate for the economic losses suffered as a result of the crime. Judges may order offenders to compensate victims for a range of costs, including medical bills, lost wages, and the value of the property that was stolen or destroyed. The aim of restitution is to make the victim whole by returning them to the financial position they were in before the crime occurred (Logan & Gaes, 2018).

However, collecting the money owed to victims can be a major problem. Offenders may not have the financial means to pay the restitution, or they may refuse to do so. In some cases, the offender may disappear or flee to another jurisdiction to avoid payment. This can make it difficult to enforce restitution orders and ensure that victims receive the compensation they are owed.

To address these challenges, some jurisdictions have implemented measures such as wage garnishment, which allows courts to order employers to withhold a portion of an offender’s wages to pay restitution (Logan & Gaes, 2018). This helps to ensure that the offender pays the restitution owed to the victim.

Additionally, restitution can be made a condition of probation, whereby the offender is required to make regular payments to the victim as a condition of their release. If the offender fails to pay restitution, they may be imprisoned for a probation violation (National Institute of Justice, 2016).

Despite these measures, restitution remains a complicated and often difficult process. It requires a system of enforcement and collection that is both efficient and effective and that balances the needs of the victim with the rights of the offender. Nonetheless, restitution is an important tool for holding offenders accountable for their actions and providing victims with the compensation they deserve.

Community Service

As a matter of legal theory, crimes are viewed as harmful to the entire community, not just the immediate victim. As a result, some advocates believe that offenders should be required to perform community service as a way of paying back the community for the harm caused by their actions. Community service can take many forms, including picking up litter along roadways, cleaning up graffiti, and performing other tasks that benefit the community.

Proponents of community service argue that it can have several benefits. First, it can help to rebuild trust between offenders and the community by showing that offenders are willing to take responsibility for their actions and make amends. Second, it can provide offenders with an opportunity to develop new skills and experiences that may be useful in finding employment or pursuing other goals. Finally, it can help to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system by providing an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

However, the effectiveness of community service programs in reducing recidivism rates is still a matter of debate. While many programs have been developed and implemented over the years, there is relatively little empirical evidence to support their effectiveness (Clear et al., 2013).

Some studies suggest that community service can have a positive impact on offenders, helping them to develop a sense of responsibility and accountability and reducing the likelihood of future criminal behavior (Lanza-Kaduce et al., 2010). However, other studies have found no significant impact of community service programs on recidivism rates (Wilson et al., 2013).

Overall, while community service is a widely used alternative to traditional forms of punishment, there is still much to learn about its effectiveness as a means of reducing crime and promoting community safety. Further research is needed to understand the conditions under which community service programs are most effective and how they can be improved to maximize their impact on offenders and the community as a whole.

Scarlett-letter Punishments

Scarlet-letter punishments are a type of punishment designed to shame the offender, with the hope that the public humiliation will deter them from committing future crimes. These punishments can take many forms, including forced apologies, warning signs, newspaper ads, and even wearing a sandwich board in public. Advocates of shaming punishments argue that they are a cheap and satisfying alternative to traditional forms of punishment, such as incarceration.

However, there is much debate about the effectiveness of shaming punishments. Critics argue that shaming is unlikely to lead to a change in behavior and that it may actually have the opposite effect by reinforcing negative attitudes and behaviors (Kahan, 1994). Furthermore, shaming may be viewed as a violation of the offender’s dignity and human rights and may even lead to retaliation against the offender by the public.

In addition to the practical concerns about the effectiveness of shaming punishments, there are also legal challenges to their use. Some have argued that such punishments violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, while others have raised First Amendment concerns about the government compelling defendants to convey a judicially scripted message. Still, others have argued that shaming punishments are not specifically authorized by state sentencing guidelines and therefore constitute an abuse of judicial discretion (Litowitz, 1997).

Overall, while shaming punishments may have some appeal as a cheap and easy alternative to incarceration, there is much debate about their effectiveness and legality. Further research is needed to better understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of shaming punishments and to determine how they can be implemented in a way that is both effective and respectful of offenders’ rights.

Asset Forfeiture

In recent years, asset forfeiture has been a controversial topic in the United States due to concerns over due process and abuse of power by law enforcement agencies. Critics argue that asset forfeiture laws have been used to seize property and money from individuals who have not been convicted of a crime and that law enforcement agencies often use the proceeds from these forfeitures to fund their own activities, creating an incentive for abuse (Katz, 2019). In response to these concerns, some states have passed reforms to limit the use of asset forfeiture or increase transparency and accountability in the process (Duke & Gross, 2019).

Despite these criticisms, asset forfeiture remains an important tool for law enforcement agencies in combating organized crime and drug trafficking. In addition to seizing assets used in criminal enterprises, law enforcement agencies can also seize assets obtained through criminal activity, such as money earned through drug sales or other illegal activities. The proceeds from these forfeitures are often used to fund law enforcement activities or victim compensation programs (Katz, 2019).

The legal basis for asset forfeiture can be traced back to British common law, which allowed for the seizure of property used in criminal activity. In the United States, asset forfeiture laws were first enacted in the 1970s as part of the federal government’s efforts to combat organized crime. Since then, both federal and state governments have expanded their asset forfeiture laws, often with the goal of targeting drug trafficking and other organized crime activities (Duke & Gross, 2019).

While asset forfeiture remains controversial, it is likely to continue to be an important tool for law enforcement agencies in the United States. As criminal organizations become increasingly sophisticated, law enforcement agencies must adapt to new challenges in order to effectively combat crime and keep communities safe (Katz, 2019).

Appeals

An appeal is a legal process where a party requests a higher court to review the decision of a lower court.  An appeal results in one of two outcomes. If the appellate court agrees with the lower court, then the appellate court affirms the lower court’s decision. In such cases, the appeals court is said to uphold the decision of the lower court. If the appellate court agrees with the plaintiff that an error occurred, then the appellate court will overturn the conviction. This happens only when the error is determined to be substantial. 

Trivial or insignificant errors will result in the appellate court affirming the decision of the lower court. Winning an appeal is rarely a “get out of jail free” card for the defendant. Most often, the case is remanded to the lower court for rehearing. The decision to retry the case ultimately rests with the prosecutor. If the decision of the appellate court requires the exclusion of important evidence, the prosecutor may decide that a conviction is not possible. 

The process of appeal can be lengthy and expensive. Defendants who are indigent may be provided with legal representation by the state or federal government. In civil cases, an appeal is often a way to correct a decision that was unfair or incorrect. However, in criminal cases, the appeal process is much more difficult because the defendant is usually trying to prove that a constitutional right was violated.

One example of a constitutional issue that could be raised on appeal is the defendant’s right to a fair trial. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees this right. If the defendant’s right to a fair trial was violated, then the appellate court may overturn the conviction. Other constitutional issues that may be raised on appeal include violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures or the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination.

In some cases, appeals courts have the power to dismiss a case outright, especially if the lower court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place. This can happen if the case was filed in the wrong court or if the court lacked the power to hear the type of case that was presented. In these instances, the appellate court may simply dismiss the case without any further proceedings.

Sentencing Statutes and Guidelines

In the United States, the process of criminal sentencing is largely governed by legislative bodies. This means that it is the responsibility of lawmakers to determine the punishments that are associated with specific crimes. These legislative assemblies establish the sentencing schemes either by passing sentencing statutes or by creating sentencing guidelines. These sentencing schemes, once established, are used by judges in courts to determine the appropriate punishment for a convicted offender.

The federal sentencing guidelines were developed in response to concerns about inconsistent and disparate sentencing practices. The guidelines are not mandatory, but federal judges are required to consult them when sentencing defendants in federal court. The guidelines are based on a point system that considers the seriousness of the crime and the offender’s criminal history. 

The point system is intended to provide a measure of consistency in the sentencing process. The guidelines also provide for the consideration of aggravating and mitigating factors that may warrant an increase or decrease in the recommended sentence. The guidelines include specific provisions for various offenses, including drug offenses, white-collar crimes, and violent crimes.

The guidelines have been the subject of criticism and controversy, with some arguing that they are too rigid and do not allow judges to take individual circumstances into account. In 2005, the Supreme Court issued a decision in United States v. Booker that made the guidelines advisory rather than mandatory. This decision allowed judges greater discretion in sentencing, but they are still required to consider the guidelines when determining an appropriate sentence. Despite the criticism, the guidelines remain an important part of the federal criminal justice system and have had a significant impact on sentencing practices in the United States.

Indeterminate Sentencing 

Indeterminate sentencing is a type of criminal sentencing where the convict is not given a sentence of a certain period in prison. Instead, the convict is given a range of possible sentence lengths, such as a minimum and maximum sentence, and the actual length of the sentence is determined by the offender’s behavior while incarcerated. This system is sometimes referred to as a “parole board model” because it involves a parole board making decisions about release dates based on the offender’s progress in prison. 

Indeterminate sentencing is intended to allow for more flexibility in sentencing and rehabilitation. The system is often criticized for its lack of transparency and consistency and for the power it gives to the parole board in determining an offender’s release date. Some jurisdictions have moved away from indeterminate sentencing in favor of determinate sentencing, which involves fixed prison terms based on the specific offense committed.

Determinate Sentencing

A determinate sentence is a type of criminal sentence that specifies a fixed length of time that a convicted offender must serve in prison, and this sentence is generally not subject to review by a parole board. Unlike indeterminate sentencing, determinate sentencing does not provide for a broad range of time to be served or for release based on behavior while incarcerated.

Instead, the length of the sentence is fixed at the time of sentencing, and the offender must serve the entire sentence unless they are granted early release for good time, as determined by the correctional institution. This type of sentencing is commonly used for less serious crimes, where the punishment is proportionate to the offense and where there is a clear and established sentencing guideline or statutory framework.

Mandatory Sentences

Mandatory sentences are one of the most controversial forms of criminal sentencing. This type of sentence removes the discretion of the judge and requires the convicted offender to receive a specified minimum sentence. A legislative body establishes the absolute minimum sentence and usually targets serious or violent crimes. The aim of mandatory sentences is to ensure that convicted offenders receive a sentence that fits the crime they committed.

However, critics argue that mandatory sentences can be too harsh, especially for nonviolent offenders who may receive lengthy sentences that do not fit the crime they committed. In some cases, mandatory sentences have resulted in overcrowded prisons, prompting policymakers to consider alternatives to incarceration, such as community service or probation.

Mandatory sentences are often included in habitual offender laws, such as repeat drug offenders. In these cases, offenders who have committed multiple drug-related offenses are subject to mandatory minimum sentences. Under federal law, prosecutors have the powerful plea bargaining tool of agreeing not to file under the prior felony statute.

This practice allows prosecutors to offer reduced sentences to defendants who plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for waiving their right to trial. The use of mandatory sentences remains a controversial topic in the criminal justice system, with proponents and opponents fiercely debating its effectiveness in deterring crime and promoting public safety.

Sentencing Guidelines

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 was a response to the perceived unfairness in federal sentencing practices, and it completely overhauled the way federal offenders are sentenced. Under the Act, the U.S. Sentencing Commission was established to create sentencing guidelines for every federal offense. When the guidelines went into effect in 1987, they dramatically limited judges’ sentencing discretion and probation officers’ role in the sentencing process. In addition, the Act replaced parole with “supervised release,” which requires prisoners to be under community supervision after completing their prison terms (Courts, 2015).

Following the adoption of federal sentencing guidelines, around half of the states began using similar practices. These guidelines limit judges’ discretion by outlining a narrow range of expected punishments for specific offenses. Sentencing guidelines may use a grid system that takes into account both the severity of the offense and the offender’s criminal history. The more severe the offense and the longer the criminal history, the longer the sentence the offender receives. While some systems allow judges to deviate from the guidelines, this is typically only in cases of aggravating or mitigating circumstances (Champion, Hartley, & Rabe, 2012).

Summary

The sentencing phase of a trial involves determining the punishment for a convicted individual. A presentence investigation report is often conducted to provide a more complete understanding of the individual’s circumstances and make an informed decision about the appropriate sentence. 

Victim impact statements, which describe the impact of a crime on the victim, can also be presented in court and can help the judge determine the severity of the punishment. Judges must consider the seriousness of the offense and the presence of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances when deciding on a sentence. Factors such as the defendant’s criminal history, level of involvement in the crime, and impact of the crime on others are also relevant. 

When a person is convicted of multiple crimes, the judge must determine if the sentences will be served concurrently or consecutively, which can have a significant impact on the severity of the punishment. Overall, determining the appropriate sentence is a complex process that requires careful consideration of many different factors to ensure that justice is served fairly.

When a person is found guilty of a crime, they may face a punishment known as a sentence, which could include fines, community service, probation, or imprisonment. The length of the sentence depends on the nature of the crime and the jurisdiction in which it was committed. The text also discusses the controversial issue of the death penalty and its restrictions, including automatic reviews by higher courts, a unanimous jury verdict, and guidelines that prohibit its use for certain groups of people.

Incarceration is the most common punishment after fines, and it is used to both punish offenders and protect society. Jails and prisons are the main types of facilities used for incarceration, with prisons being for long-term confinement for those convicted of more serious offenses. However, there is an ongoing debate about the effectiveness and fairness of this form of punishment.

Probation is a form of punishment that is often used as an alternative to incarceration, and it involves a convicted person being placed under the supervision of a probation officer while living in the community. Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP) is a more rigorous form of probation for high-risk offenders, while boot camps provide a military-style environment for young convicts with the aim of instilling discipline and accountability.

House arrest and electronic monitoring are also used as forms of punishment for offenders, allowing them to serve their sentences at home under certain conditions. While house arrest is generally considered a less severe form of punishment than incarceration, it is not without controversy.

Fines are a common punishment for minor offenses and violations, but the system may discriminate against the poor who cannot afford to pay them. Some jurisdictions use a sliding scale known as day fines that take into account the offender’s financial circumstances, calculating the fine based on the seriousness of the offense and the offender’s daily income. 

Restitution requires the offender to pay money directly to the victim to compensate for the economic losses suffered as a result of the crime. Community service is an alternative to traditional forms of punishment that can help rebuild trust between offenders and the community and reduce the burden on the criminal justice system. 

Scarlet-letter punishments aim to shame offenders to deter them from committing future crimes, but their effectiveness is a matter of debate. Asset forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to seize assets used in criminal enterprises or obtained through criminal activity, but it is also controversial due to concerns over due process and abuse of power.

An appeal is a legal process where a party requests a higher court to review the decision of a lower court. The article explains the outcomes of an appeal and the constitutional issues that may be raised during the process. 

There are different types of sentencing schemes, including determinate sentencing, indeterminate sentencing, mandatory sentences, and sentencing guidelines. The article highlights the controversy surrounding mandatory sentences and the impact of federal sentencing guidelines on the criminal justice system.

Key Terms

Appeal, Asset Forfeiture, Boot Camps, Community Service, Concurrent Sentence, Consecutive Sentence, Day Fine, Death Penalty, Determinate Sentencing, Electronic Monitoring, Fine, Forfeiture, Good Time, Home Confinement, House Arrest, Indeterminate Sentencing, Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP), Mandatory Sentences, Overturn, Presentence Investigation Report, Probation, Proportionality Doctrine, Remand, Scarlet-Letter Punishments, Sentencing, Sentencing Hearing, Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Sentencing Statute, U.S. Sentencing Commission, Uphold, Victim Impact Statement

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Last Updated:  07/13/2023

References

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