How Does a Judge Decide My Sentence?

Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you’ve been convicted of a crime, you might be wondering how it is that the judge will decide your sentence. A judge has to consider many factors in weighing what sentence to impose upon a defendant who comes before them. Here are some of the factors that a judge will consider in deciding how to sentence you:

  1.     Statutes and case law.

The first thing that a judge will consider is the law. Criminal offenses will have minimum and maximum punishments that are set by statute. Further, case law and constitutional considerations will also impact the judge’s ability to determine a particular sentence. If a judge were to fail to follow the law, the sentence would be overturned on appeal.

  1.     Prior criminal history.

A judge will look at your prior criminal history in determining how to sentence. Lack of a criminal history will likely benefit you greatly, while a lengthy criminal history is a tough hurdle. Even criminal convictions far back in time will be considered, although more recent criminal convictions will be more damaging.

  1.     Age.

Your age at the time of the offense will be considered. Youthful first offenders are often cut more breaks than older offenders, as their immaturity and lack of brain development can contribute to poor decision making. On the other hand, elderly offenders who have kept a clean record for most of their life and have a momentary indiscretion are also often cut some slack by many judges.

  1.     Seriousness of the Crime

Of course, the seriousness of the crime and the facts surrounding the commission of the crime will play into the judge’s decision. If you can provide the court with mitigating factors that help to provide some context to the reasons that led you to commit the crime, it can be helpful.

  1.     Community Support.

Having the support of your family, friends, and other members of the community can be a positive factor for a judge who is determining a sentence. Many lawyers will ask your family and friends to write letters of support to be submitted to the judge prior to sentencing, so that the judge can take into consideration that community support. Further, letters from friends and family can help humanize you for the judge, so you’re not just a number.

  1.     Remorse.

To many judges, it is important to know whether or not a defendant is remorseful for his or her actions. If you can demonstrate sincere remorse to the judge, it may positively impact your sentence.

  1.     Professional evaluations.

If you have a professional evaluation that discusses the factors that led you to commit the crime and gives a positive outlook for your future risk to commit further crimes, that can be helpful. For example, if you were being sentenced for a sexual offense, a sex offender risk assessment by a licensed psychologist that indicates that you are at low risk to reoffend will likely result in a lower sentence.

  1.     Risk to the community.

The judge will look at what he or she believes to be your risk to the community. If you have an assaultive or sexual offense, your risk to the community will be higher than if you are being sentenced for a financial crime or other non-violent offense.

  1.     Punishment v Rehabilitation.

The judge has to decide how much punishment is appropriate in your case, versus how much they want to focus on rehabilitation.

If you are being sentenced in a criminal case, it is important that you are represented by a lawyer, and that you speak to experienced criminal defense lawyers about your case.


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