Criminal Law: Sentencing


Sentencing is a form of punishment that is imposed on individuals who have been convicted of crimes. It is imposed by the criminal justice system of every state which follows a set of guidelines. There are many forms of sentencing which include but are not limited to capital sentencing, imprisonment, and fines. The actual length of time of the sentencing served is controlled by the corrections agency. Inmates can be paroled after serving the minimum sentence if they are considered rehabilitated and ready to live in the community. In addition, the minimum or maximum time served may be reduced if the inmate’s behavior is deemed to have changed after going through the rehabilitation. However, there are some inmates whose behavior does not change even after serving long sentences. The criminal justice system is left with no option other than to impose a capital sentence. This paper will look at the different goals of sentencing, the forms of sentencing, and their rationale, and capital sentencing about the Eight Amendment.

Goals of Sentencing

Upon conviction, punishment is doled out to the offender. There are many goals of punishment. One goal is vengeance, that is, punishment for punishment’s sake because it is deserved. Another goal of punishment is deterrence; it is anticipated that being punished will dissuade that individual offender from offending again and will be a lesson to the rest of the community not to take on the same criminal behavior. The third goal of punishment or sentencing, particularly involving incarceration is that of incapacitation. In other words, through punishment, the public will be protected from the offender for at least the period of the sentencing. The last but not the least goal of sentencing is rehabilitation (Ashworth & Wasik, 1998). This is not about being disciplinary to the offender, but rather recuperative. Rehabilitation tries to treat the fundamental causes of criminal behavior in the offender and then reinstate that person to society as a productive and law-abiding member.

Depending on the state of affairs of the case, a judge may seek to accomplish any one or more of these goals in handing down a sentence. And it is the judge who is in charge of sentencing. In states where juries make recommendations as to sentences, the judge has the definitive task of deciding whether to follow the jury’s recommendations or to do something different.

Forms of Sentencing

Sentencing for crimes is usually largely approved in the penal codes of each state. There are three major types of sentences: indeterminate, determinate, and mandatory. Indeterminate sentences are sentences for an unclear period that spell out a minimum and maximum period to be spent imprisoned. This type of sentencing is normally linked with rehabilitation because it allows for the offender to be paroled and unconfined at such time within the minimum and maximum sentencing range that the offender is adequately treated and transformed to return to society. Determinate sentences are those that set a precise period to be served (Austin, et al 2004). It relies on sentencing guidelines passed by the legislature that list presumptive sentences for offenses.

Mandatory sentencing is used in almost all states for at least some offenses. A mandatory sentence is required by law to be forced upon the belief of a particular offense. For example, in many states, a first-degree murder conviction requires that the offender be sentenced to life without parole. In cases involving mandatory sentences, judges have no prudence at the sentencing phase (Hirsch, et al 1987). In New York, mandatory sentencing laws require drug offenders to be locked up in prison for a specific period. For example in 1998 (the month of December), one-third (33%) of the imprisoned lawbreakers were drugs. Other than in mandatory sentencing circumstances, the sentences received by offenders who commit the same crime may vary even within the same jurisdiction.

Minor forms of sentencing include probation, incarceration in prison, fines, or community supervision. Probation is a kind of punishment that hinders an offender from committing criminal activities within a given period. It is a light punishment that is imposed on the criminal to help him learn from his mistakes. Probation can be used together with other forms of sentencing or can be used solely on people who have committed less serious crimes. Prison incarceration is a situation whereby a criminal is confined in a restricted area such as a prison or jail for a given period. It is used for criminals who have committed a crime more than two times or more serious crimes. The purpose of prison incarceration is to take the criminal from society since he is deemed to be dangerous and confine him in an area where he will be able to reflect on his mistakes and where he might get rehabilitated. For example, Steven Manjeza and Towage Chimbalanga were sentenced to 14 years in prison plus hard labor for breaching Malawi Penal Code.

In some cases, community supervision is used in place of prison incarceration. It is a situation whereby monitoring methods are employed to supervise the activities of law offenders. It allows for punishment of the criminals who may be restricted from doing certain activities. Community supervision is a light form of punishment that gives a criminal time to reflect on his criminal activities and learn from them without necessarily serving the prison sentence. Fines are another form of sentencing which is imposed on pretty crimes.

Capital Sentencing

Capital sentencing is also known as the death penalty. This is a situation whereby, the criminal is sentenced to death. The crime that is punishable by death is referred to as a capital crime. This includes murder, sex crimes, and violent crimes such as burglary, apostasy, and treason. Nevertheless, this type of sentencing is tremendously abused by some states which inflict death sentences on crimes such as infidelity. It is argued that capital sentencing discourages similar crimes from being committed in a community by setting an example of what would happen to anyone who is caught in a similar crime. It is also assumed to do away with criminals from society thus sinking the danger of recidivism. Capital sentence was first used by God himself when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and also in the flood of Noah. Gary Graham was sentenced to death in 1981 after being convicted of 10 robberies, the murder of Bobby Grant Lambert, and the rape and abduction of Lisa Blackburn.

The eighth Amendment principle was developed in the United States by the Supreme Court. It prohibits cruel and unpleasant sentences such as capital sentences (Melton, et al., 2007). Unpleasant sentences include tough sentences for very pretty offenses, for example, the imposition of a capital sentence on a criminal of adultery can be regarded as a cruel and unpleasant sentence. The eighth Amendment was a modification of the United State’s constitution because of the inefficiencies that were evident in the judiciary system. This amendment prevents the infliction of sentences before conviction. Capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment and is termed as an unpleasant punishment although most activities hold the view that, capital sentences should not be abolished because they serve as a lesson to other criminals (Loh, 1984).

Tough Sentences

Many activists argue that tough sentences reduce crime. I would to a certain extent agree with this assertion because most of the sentences are aimed at rehabilitating the criminals by teaching them a lesson while acting as a warning to society at the same time. The tougher a sentence is the more the criminal learns from his mistakes. Minor sentences such as probation bear fruits only in the short term and not in the long run. This is because, as far as the criminals recognize that they have made a mistake, they are not repetitive of the same. After all, they are not affected by the punishment. This is where tough sentencing comes to play a critical role. From the origins of classical theory to the development of modern rational choice views, the belief that criminals choose to commit a crime has influenced the relationship between law, punishment, and crime (Cole & Smith, 2007).

When police perambulate in well-marked cars, it is implied that their presence will discourage would-be criminals. When the cruel authenticities of prison life are depicted in movies and TV shows, the lesson is not lost on prospective criminals. Nowhere is the thought that the menace of punishment can control crime more evident than in the execution of tough obligatory criminal sentences to control violent crimes. Regardless of its questionable deterrent effect, some advocates argue that the death penalty can limit criminality; at least it guarantees that convicted criminals never again get the opportunity to kill. Many witnesses are disappointed because people who are convicted of murder sometimes kill again when released on parole. Research shows that more than nine percent of all inmates on death row have had previous convictions for murder. Advocates argue that if these criminals had been executed for their first offenses, hundreds of people would not have died (Cole & Smith, 2007).

However, in some instances, tough sentences tend to increase criminal behavior. This is because it is almost impossible for criminals to acquire jobs with felony records and to make it worse, criminals associates themselves with other criminals making it difficult to get other sources of income other than the criminal activities. This is why we find criminals who have just been released from prison, committing acts of crime without being worried. Others acquire even intense criminal behaviors from their peers in prison which they practice the moment they are released. I think the death penalty should be abolished because it is not gaining as many fruits as expected. The crime rates continue to rise irrespective of the death penalty being imposed.


In conclusion, I would say that sentencing is a form of punishment that is imposed on individuals convicted of committing a crime. Sentencing is aimed at rehabilitating offenders from their criminal activities. It is also aimed at preventing society from criminal activities and also to serve as a lesson to other law-offenders. The sentencing comes in different forms depending on the nature and extent of the crime. Some forms of sentencing are minor while others are major and require proper jurisdiction. Minor sentences include probation, imprisonment, fines, and community supervision.

Capital punishment is the fiercest form of sentencing and includes the death penalty. It is imposed on criminals who have been convicted of capital crimes. However, the Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel and unpleasant sentences such as the death sentence although many people still hold that they are important. Tough sentences reduce crimes to some extent although they cannot be wholly relied upon for the elimination of criminal activities.

Reference List

Ashworth, A. & Wasik, M. (1998). Fundamentals of sentencing theory: essays in honor of Andrew von Hirsch Oxford monographs on criminal law and criminal justice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Austin, J. et al (2004). National Assessment of Structured Sentencing. New York: DIANE Publishing.

Cole, G. F. & Smith, C. E. (2007). Criminal Justice in America. New York: Cengage Learning.

Hirsch, et al., (1987). The sentencing commission and its guidelines. New York: UPNE.

Loh, W. D. (1984). Social research in the judicial process: cases, readings, and text. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Melton et al., (2007). Psychological evaluations for the courts: a handbook for mental health professionals and lawyers. New York: Guilford Press.

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