How Does a Judge Determine a Criminal Sentence?

One aspect of a criminal court case that is not understood very well by the general public is the sentencing process. Many people think sentencing is simply based on legal rules or the judge’s personal feelings toward the defendant, but that’s not true. A large body of documents and evidence is often the most persuasive when it comes time for a judge to hand down a sentence.


When Other Factors May be Considered

While many cases allow a judge to consider external factors when sentencing a case, there are some instances where this is not allowed. Sometimes a judge must simply look at the case presented to him and make a judgement based on what is presented during the case. These rules are often based on what federal or state laws apply to the case in question.


Looking to the Past

The past activities of a defendant are one way in which a judge can make a sentencing decision. If a defendant has previously been convicted of a crime, especially one closely related to his or her current charges, this can cause a judge to pursue a much harsher sentence. This type of information can help a judge determine if a defendant would benefit from certain types of rehabilitation services.


Pre-Sentence Report

A pre-sentence report is one of the most valuable tools available to sentencing judges. This report consists of many types of information relating to the defendant in question. These reports are created by the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System when pertaining to federal cases. State personnel or local probation officers are likely to create all reports for state cases.

The pre-sentence report contains the following information:

  • The impact the defendant’s past and current crimes have had on victims. This can be psychological, financial or medical in nature. Another dramatic difference that a victim can make is when they address the court at the sentencing hearing.
  • The “offense level” of the defendant is also listed. This is determined by looking at the defendant’s past criminal history and how long ago the crimes were committed.
  • Circumstances surrounding the defendant are also listed in the report. These can include personal circumstances that may have led to the person committing the crime. This helps a judge determine possible rehabilitation services that may be used as a way to prevent repeat offenses in the future.
  • The way in which any damages that must be paid are also determined by the report. Information, such as the income, are included in the report to help make this determination.

For more information regarding criminal sentencing, call Rand Mintzer at 713-862-8880 to schedule an appointment.