What Factors Affect Criminal Sentencing?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 01 February 2020
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The factors that may affect criminal sentencing vary by jurisdiction, but many legal systems include a set of guidelines for sentencing that include a minimum and maximum sentence that may be imposed. Within that range, the facts of the crime are often taken into consideration when determining what punishment might constitute fair sentencing. Different people might recommend different sentences for the same crime, and the same crime performed by different offenders might warrant different sentences. Criminal sentencing is a subjective practice, not a process that can be mathematically determined.

First and foremost, the type of crime committed affects criminal sentencing. Almost always, more severe crimes result in more severe punishments. Violent crimes are often punished more harshly than crimes like possession of drugs or theft, although there are some exceptions. Facts about how the crime was committed might affect criminal sentencing. Crimes that pose little risk to human beings whether or not actual violence was involved are usually punished as harshly as those where violence is necessary.

It is important to note that different judges might be harsher than others, and different areas are more inclined to punish certain crimes more harshly. Current events, politics, and even the mood of the judge can all be factors that affect sentencing indirectly. In some cases, the talent of a person's lawyer might affect sentencing, although almost no amount of negotiation or political manipulation can mitigate a particularly serious sentence.


Usually, the age of the criminal and the number of previous offenses has some effect on criminal sentencing. Young perpetrators and first-time offenders are often treated with leniency. People who commit the same crime repeatedly are usually punished particularly harshly, and in some cases a repeat offender might have a very harsh minimum sentence. In some cases, a crime can be so severe that the age of the criminal does not warrant a lenient sentence, but even in these cases age is taken into account.

Other factors, such as why the crime was committed, are usually not considered during criminal sentencing except in extremely rare cases. Sometimes, cooperating with police and informing on other criminals may reduce a sentence, although these deals usually involve taking a plea bargain of some sort. It is unusual for a criminal's body to affect criminal sentencing explicitly, but many people allege that people of certain races, genders, or associations may receive preferential treatment during sentencing. When it is clear that discriminatory sentencing has occurred, there may be room for a change to the sentence.


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Post 6

In response to the post: "So there are instances when little knick knacks that are essentially junk have led to good men and women getting huge jail sentences. Doesn't seem fair to me."

I'm sorry, but good men and women aren't robbing people. There is a difference between robbery and theft.

Post 5

You can drive a felon crazy and torture him by making him live in a grey space where breaking the law is the norm.. ~ noName

Post 4

What would happen if these legal factors in sentencing were changed, or even eliminated?

Post 3

If you are caught stealing the amount that you have stolen determines a lot of the sentencing guidelines that you will be subjected to. Theft above a certain dollar amount will get you one amount of time and below a certain dollar amount will get you another amount of time.

The tricky thing is that it is the person who has been robbed who determines the dollar value of the goods that have been stolen. So there are instances when little nick knacks that are essentially junk have lead to good men and women getting huge jail sentences. Doesn't seem fair to me.

Post 2

Do previous convictions effect criminal sentencing? I was once convicted of felony theft and I have never been in trouble with the law since. Part of that is because I wanted to go straight and do right. Another part is that I was worried I would get the book thrown at me if I was ever caught again. Would I be in much bigger trouble if I was ever caught stealing again?

Post 1

It must be said that race has been shown to be a significant factor in criminal sentencing. African Americans and other minorities routinely receive stricter sentences for committing the same crimes that whites do.

How can we conclude that there is anything but institutionalized racism at play? And justice is supposed to be blind. It is a fundamental part of our democracy that all of us are judged equally under the law. Sadly, this is not the way it works in practice.

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