Criminal Sentencing FAQ

Do people convicted of the same or similar crimes receive similar sentences?

Some states have "mandatory" sentences, which limit the judge's discretion in setting punishment. Mandatory sentencing laws are a response by state legislatures to their perception of the public's desire to end judicial leniency and treat similarly all people who break the same law. Federal law used to prescribe mandatory sentences; these are now used more like guidelines.

More commonly, criminal statutes do not carry mandatory sentences. Rather, judges can take a number of factors into account when deciding on an appropriate punishment. For instance, judges may typically consider factors that include the following:

  • the defendant's past criminal record, age, and sophistication
  • the circumstances under which the crime was committed, and
  • whether the defendant genuinely feels remorse.

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