Criminal Sentencing FAQ

Who determines what punishment a convicted defendant receives?

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Who determines what punishment a convicted defendant receives?

Judges, not juries, almost always determine the punishment, even following jury trials. In fact, a common jury instruction warns jurors not to consider the question of punishment when deciding a defendant's guilt or innocence. In a very few situations, juries do take part in sentencing decisions. For example, in capital punishment cases in some states, a judge cannot impose the death penalty in a jury trial unless the jury recommends death rather than life in prison. And when a statute sets out factual circumstances that can produce a harsher sentence (for example, the use of a weapon in the commission of a crime), a judge cannot impose the harsher punishment unless the jury concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that the circumstances were present.

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