What is Time Served?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 February 2020
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Time served is the amount of time someone spends in jail awaiting trial, during the trial, or awaiting sentencing. People who are being held in these circumstances are said to be held on remand. In some cases, once someone is determined to be guilty, a judge may offer credit for how much time he or she spent in jail before the sentencing. Such credits are commonly offered in misdemeanor cases or in cases where the convicted person has behaved well while being held on remand.

In some situations, a judge will sentence a guilty party only to time served. In areas with sentencing guidelines, it is sometimes possible that the guideline corresponds with the amount of time the person spent being held on remand. In these situations, the convicted person goes free after the sentencing hearing. In other instances, the credit for time spent in remand is used to reduce prison time. For example, someone might be sentenced to two years in prison with a six-month credit for the time he or she already served, which would result in an 18-month prison stay.


Regional laws about giving credit for this time vary. Some countries allow time spent on remand to be counted differently from time in prison. People may be given double credit for this time, for instance, with three months in jail awaiting trial being considered equivalent to six months of time served. Being given a credit may not always be an option, depending on the nature of the crime and the regional laws.

People who are held on remand can spend a long time in jail as their cases are brought to trial and heard in court, and can spend additional time waiting for a sentence if convicted. The legal system recognizes this as a hardship for the prisoner. Credit for this time provides a mechanism for compensating people for the time they have already spent in jail. If the credit does not cancel out the sentence, the convict will be transferred to a prison facility to serve out the remainder of the sentence.

The amount of leeway a judge has in sentencing varies, and in some places, very strict sentencing guidelines limit the judge's options. Once a jury has arrived at a verdict, the judge must follow the standards set out by law. In other regions, judges are allowed more discretion. This is designed to promote fairness in the legal system by allowing judges to consider the circumstances of a case before they pass sentence. Allowing judges to give credit for time served is one of the mechanisms for providing sentencing flexibility.


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Post 8

I was incarcerated for two years and two weeks. I completed my sentence in July 2012. The problem is that I didn't get to come home until August 2012 because of Nashville, Tennessee. When the time come to leave they said I haven't served all of my sentence yet.

I knew that I did and I had the help from a court appointed lawyer. Come to find out my time really was up. The state held me there for no reason. What made this so bad is that Nashville knew about this problem seven months before, but I was a state inmate working my butt off, getting two for one because I was trustee. I did everything possible to get

home quickly.

I was incarcerated for two weeks of dead time, serving time for nothing. They complain about spending money on state inmates. Just think the what state cost itself by keeping me over my term expiration. I was in prison for two weeks over the two years I'd just done. Two weeks may not seem like a lot of time, but it is when you haven't seen your family in over two years. There's no telling how many others are lost by the state. I didn't mind paying for my crime, but the two weeks they took from me I'll never get back.

Post 7

@starrynight - I see what you're saying, but I just don't think it's feasible. Where would the money come from to compensate the people who weren't convicted for their time served? From taxes? The state budget?

I just don't see this ever happening for other reasons, too. Imagine the public outcry-getting paid for jail time! I can just picture people saying stuff like "It's not like they're doing anything productive in there, so why should our tax money go towards paying them?"

Post 6

I think the way our legal system treats time served in the case of a guilty person makes a lot of sense. They've already been sitting in jail, so that should count towards their time.

However, what about people who are found innocent? As a few of the other commenters pointed out, people can sit in jail for a long time waiting for their trial. Especially if they don't have money for bail!

I really think the state should offer these people some kind of monetary compensation for their time if they are found innocent. It seems like it would be the right thing to do.

Post 5

By the time you receive your sentence, if your case has gone to trial you've already been locked up quite a while unless you were out on bail. It's a pretty serious disruption to your life! It only makes sense that it would count against the time you have to serve, even if it's "not as bad" as prison. I think jails actually lack some of the facilities that prisons have because prisons are designed for longer stays and have to provide more services.

And for minor crimes, especially first offenses, you can see how the time spent in jail during your trial is probably enough punishment.

Post 4

@Charred - There is some hardship to be in jail, to be sure, but it’s not the kind of hardship that you would experience in a state prison.

Many people don’t realize the difference between prison vs jail terms. Both are bad, but jail is a county facility. If you’re sent to prison, you’re sent to a state facility, and the conditions are much more restrictive and brutal, from what I hear, in the state facility.

I am not minimizing jail in any sense of the term; you definitely don’t want to go there. But time served in jail is not the same as time served in prison.

Your best bet, actually, is to see if you can negotiate some sort of probation arrangement and avoid jail altogether. These types of arrangements can be worked out with some felony DUI convictions.

Post 3

Credit for time served is fair in my opinion. I realize that some people don’t like to talk about “fairness” when the suspect has been determined to be guilty, but we must do so for the following reason.

The law assigns proportionality when carrying out the sentence. The punishment must be proportional to the crime. So if you are sentenced for ten years and have spent two years in jail during the trial already, then technically you are being sentenced to twelve years, without credit for time served.

That doesn’t meet the true spirit of the sentencing guidelines in my opinion and exceeds the sense of proportionality for your crime.

What’s shocking is how long some people can stay in jail during the trial. I’ve seen some cases where people have been in jail for four years or longer. I agree with the article – that’s undue hardship for the prisoner.

Post 2

@TreeMan - You could be correct and there may be some state in America or countries that could allow the judge to make decisions like that, but most of the time the judge is required by law to follow through on the sentence described.

I am sure that movies and television dramatizes these instances and makes them appear they occur more often than they actually do. In reality, instances like this are probably pretty rare where a scenario would happen in which the judge would give time served for someone committing a crime due to a technicality.

Time served is something that is usually utilized for someone that was on remand for a long time on a light sentence so they do not have to be severely punished for a small crime.

Post 1

I have heard of cases where the the person technically committed a crime and was found guilty based on how the law was written, but the judge felt that the defendant did not violate the spirit of the law so the judge credits the defendant with time served on remand.

I cannot think of many cases where this has happened, but I have seen this happen in many movies in rather believable scenarios in which the person simply is found guilty based on a technicality in the law.

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