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Charged with a crime? You may be thinking that a conviction is the worst case scenario.

But what happens just beyond your conviction—at sentencing—is what can determine the course of the rest of your life.

Having an experienced criminal defense attorney speak for you during sentencing is key. Your lawyer’s argument can potentially persuade the judge to give you a more lenient sentence.

Before any criminal proceeding, be fully informed. Arm yourself with the ins and outs of criminal sentencing, so you’ll know what to expect. If there’s anything you’re still unsure of after reading this information, be sure to contact one of our lawyers.

Types of Criminal Sentences

There are several types of punishments for criminal convictions, and the sentence you get depends in part on the severity of your crime. Your sentence could include one or a combination of more than one of the following penalties.


A monetary fine is a standard sentence for minor crimes, such as infractions and misdemeanors. The dollar amount of the fine varies based on the severity of the crime that was committed. Sometimes the fine is proscribed by statute, and in others the judge has the discretion to order an appropriate fine. In some cases, fines are combined with jail time during sentencing.

Jail time

Jail or prison time is a standard sentence for felony convictions and some misdemeanors. How much time you’ll spend behind bars depends on the sentencing guidelines in state law, as well as the details of your crime.


Not as harsh as jail time, a probationary sentence is the typical penalty for some first-time offenders and some misdemeanor crimes. During your probation sentence, you must follow the rules set down by the court and meet regularly with a probation officer for check-ins. You must abide by the rules of your probation or it can be revoked, causing you to serve jail time.


Being sentenced to restitution requires you to compensate your victim for your crime. For example, if you stole money, then you’d have to pay the full amount back — possibly with interest. In situations where the victim had hospital or medical bills as a result of your criminal action, restitution means paying those bills.

Alternative Sentences

In some cases, none of the mentioned penalties are appropriate for the situation. That’s when alternative sentences come in. Alternative sentences are sometimes given.

Punishments can include:

  • Community service
  • House arrest
  • Drug and alcohol treatment programs

After your trial or plea deal, you’ll find out exactly which of the above penalties are part of your sentence. If you have a plea deal, the judge is likely to accept the sentence recommended by the prosecuting attorney; however, in some cases, the judge will decide that the recommended sentence is too harsh or too lenient and set a different sentence instead.

When does sentencing happen, and who decides the sentence?

Your sentencing hearing takes place after your trial ends or once your plea deal is finalized. Sentencing can happen the same day as your conviction or at a later date.

In nearly all cases, the judge determines the criminal sentence.

The exception is capital cases when the death penalty is a possible sentence. In capital cases, the jury decides whether to recommend a life sentence or the death penalty. The judge considers the jury’s recommendation and then makes a final decision.

In non-capital cases, the judge has judicial discretion. When deciding sentences, judges use guidelines described in state laws when available, and they also consider many other factors of your particular case.

What factors determine the actual sentence?

Sentencing guidelines are helpful, but ultimately the judge considers all aspects of your case to decide your punishment.

Specific Facts

Your age, your criminal record, and the circumstances of your case help determine your sentence, specifically:

  • How violent or non-violent the crime was
  • Whether or not there was a victim or victims
  • If the victim was injured and how badly

Mitigating Factors

Mitigating factors are details that can sway the judge to give you a lesser sentence. Examples include:

  • You have a strong family support system
  • You have little or no criminal history
  • Your educational opportunities
  • Your employment opportunities
  • You were an accessory to the crime — not the leading actor
  • You were under extreme personal stress when you committed the crime

Aggravating Factors

On the opposite end of the spectrum are aggravating elements, which can convince a judge to give you a harsher sentence.

Sometimes aggravating factors are even written into state law. For example, having a gun in an armed robbery results in more severe penalties than a robbery committed without a weapon. Other aggravating factors include:

  • You have an extensive criminal history
  • You’ve committed repeat offenses of the crime in question
  • You have no support system

Your Own Words

During your sentencing hearing, you may have a chance to speak on your behalf. The judge may give you an opportunity to explain why you believe you should receive a lighter sentence and he or she will consider your words along with all of the other factors and evidence.

Your sentence can change the course of your life. Talk to a lawyer today.

The team at Kent Collins Law is here to help you through your legal troubles. Whether you’re facing charges and hoping to avoid a conviction, or you’ve already been convicted and want a lighter sentence, our experienced legal team will do whatever we can to support you.

Call our office at 803-808-0905 to set up a free, in-person consultation about your case or complete this form.

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