Chapter eight
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CHAPTER EIGHT. SENTENCING. Introduction. Government determines sanction range for each offense Judge or jury responsible for sentencing Broad range of potential criminal sentences Probation, fines, community service Incarceration Death Penalty. Responsibility for Sentencing Decisions.

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Chapter eight





  • Government determines sanction range for each offense

  • Judge or jury responsible for sentencing

  • Broad range of potential criminal sentences

    • Probation, fines, community service

    • Incarceration

    • Death Penalty

Responsibility for sentencing decisions

Responsibility for Sentencing Decisions

  • Prosecuting and Defense Attorneys

    • Initial charges define sentencing options

    • Plea bargaining implies a suggested sentence

  • Probation officer prepares pre-sentence investigation report

  • Ultimate decision rests with the judge

    • Must agree to plea bargaining

    • May prescribe any sentence consistent with legislative guidelines

    • Jury must determine sentencing in capital cases

    • Jury determines liability and compensation in civil cases

  • Misdemeanor sentences

    Misdemeanor Sentences

    • Probation

    • Community Service

    • Fines

    • Incarceration



    • Period of supervision by the corrections system

    • Elements of probation

      • Criminal sentence

      • Judicial function

      • Conditional

      • Supervision by probation officers

  • Types of probation

    • Active—offender reports to a probation officer and must abide by court-imposed conditions

    • Informal (summary)—probation without supervision

  • Community service

    Community Service

    • Goal is to minimize negative effects while giving back to the community

    • Potential services

      • Cleaning parks

      • Removing graffiti

      • Washing public vehicles

      • Working at an animal shelter

      • Many others



    • Primarily for traffic violations and petty misdemeanors

    • Not all people have the same ability to pay

    • Some courts have day fine systems, in which fine is determined by:

      • Penalty days

      • Individual’s income



    • Petty misdemeanors: up to 6 months in jail

    • Serious misdemeanors: 6 months to 1 year in jail

    • Judge may suspend jail time

    • Judge may impose consecutive misdemeanor sentences

    Felony sentences

    Felony Sentences

    • Community-Based Sanctions

    • Probation

    • Economic Sanctions

    • Incarceration

    • Capital Punishment

    Chapter eight 2019302

    • Community-Based Sanctions

      • Placement in a live-in facility

      • Provides treatment and structure for offenders

  • Probation

    • Often used for property or drug offenses

    • Fewer felons have received probation in recent years

  • Economic Sanctions

    • Increasing reliance by the court system

    • Often used for crimes with a profit motive (drug trafficking, RICO)

    • Includes fines and property forfeiture

    • May be used alone or in conjunction with other punishments

  • Incarceration1


    • Shock Incarceration

      • Short period of incarceration, followed by an extended probation period

      • Designed as a specific deterrence

  • May be incarcerated in a local jail

  • Sentences of 1 year to life

  • Average sentence is 57 months

  • Violent offenders more likely to receive prison sentences

  • Capital punishment

    Capital Punishment

    • Controversial issue

    • Part of sentencing scheme since nation’s founding

    • State decides whether death penalty is permissible

    • Involves a bifurcated hearing process

    • Juries must consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances

    • Jury verdicts must be unanimous

    Sentencing decision making process

    Sentencing Decision Making Process

    • Prosecuting Attorneys

      • Decision whether to prosecute

      • Decision about what crimes to charge

        • Horizontal overcharging: charging defendant with as many different offenses or counts as possible

        • Vertical overcharging: charging a defendant with a more serious crime than the evidence supports

      • Gives the prosecutor an advantage in plea bargaining

  • Judges

    • Choice among legislatively-defined sentences

    • Decision to suspend the sentence

    • Choice of concurrent or consecutive sentences

  • Sentencing strategies employed

    Sentencing Strategies Employed

    • Indeterminate Sentencing

    • Determinate Sentencing

    • Structured Sentencing

    • Mandatory Sentencing

    Indeterminate sentencing

    Indeterminate Sentencing

    • Minimum and maximum periods of confinement specified

    • Emphasizes individualization and rehabilitation

    • Judge imposes sentence

    • Actual time serve determined by parole board

    Determinate sentencing

    Determinate Sentencing

    • Provides a specific amount of time to be served

    • Discretionary parole is abolished

    • Release date is established by court sentence minus good time credit

    • Movement toward determinate sentencing resulted from political criticism

    Structured sentencing

    Structured Sentencing

    • Sentencing guidelines define sentences for each crime

    • Utilizes a 2-dimensional sentencing grid

      • Present offense

      • Defendant’s criminal history

      • Other factors (age, race, socio-economic status, drug use, employment history, etc) are not considered

  • Goals

    • Allows policymakers to control sentencing policies

    • Can be linked to available prison space

    • Promotes development and expansion of community corrections alternatives

    • Attempts to eliminate disparities in sentencing

  • Mandatory sentencing

    Mandatory Sentencing

    • All states and the federal government have some form of mandatory sentencing

    • Assures that certain offenders receive a specified prison term

    • Habitual offender laws

    • Constitutional challenges

    Race ethnicity and gender in sentencing

    Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Sentencing

    • Minorities

      • Debate over disproportionate sentencing for minorities

      • Blacks constitute 12.8% of population and 38% of convicted felons

      • Whites constitute the majority of all felon categories except weapons offenses

  • Gender

    • Women constitute 50.7% of the population and 18% of convicted felons

    • Women most often commit property crimes, drug offenses, and “other” felonies

    • Reasons for underrepresentation of women

      • Women are better at the crimes they commit and escape apprehension

      • Women are less likely to commit crimes

      • Criminal justice system is less likely to sanction women (chivalry hypothesis)

  • Trends in sentencing

    Trends in Sentencing

    • Movement toward determinate sentencing

    • Sentencing guidelines

    • Increased punitiveness

    • Truth in sentencing

    • Capital Punishment

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