Criminal Sentencing FAQ

Where can the prescribed punishment for crimes be found?

Sometimes the law a defendant is charged with violating identifies the punishment. For example, a statute identifying specific behavior as a misdemeanor might go on to state, "For a first-time offense, an offender may be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both."

Other laws that define crimes might describe particular behavior as a misdemeanor or felony without specifying the punishment. In this situation, the punishment can be found in a separate statute that sets forth the punishment either for that particular misdemeanor (or felony), or, in some states, for all misdemeanors.

However, punishment often varies according to a defendant's background and the factual circumstances of a particular case. As a result, the actual sentence that a defendant receives if convicted may be less than the maximum term that a statute provides for. If you want to find out what your punishment is likely to be if you're convicted, you might take the following steps:

  • Pay a private defense attorney for an hour of consultation. An experienced defense attorney can often make accurate predictions as to likely punishment.
  • Talk to an attorney from the public defender's office.
  • Ask a relative or close friend who is a criminal defense attorney for informal, unpaid advice.

To find a criminal defense attorney in your area, check out Nolo's trusted Lawyer Directory.

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