Type: Definition Essays
Sample donated: Cesar Ross
Last updated: December 25, 2019
IntroductionAlternative sentencing is also referred to asnon-custodial sentence or community sentence. It is a term used in criminal justice to refer to all alternative waysused by courts to punish defendants who have been convicted of breaching thelaw, other than using a capital punishment or custodial sentence. The adoptionof alternative sentencing helps the offender to avoid consequences associatedwith imprisonment such as revolving door syndrome. Furthermore, it helps toreduce crowding in prisons as well as reduce the cost of imprisonment. InUnited States, those offenders who commit minor offences receive alternativesentencing such as curfew, unpaid work, rehabilitation, apologies to thevictim, and house arrest among others. Therefore, this paper will examine theadministration of the courts when addressing sentence alternatives in theUnited States.The criminal justice system is composed of state,local and federal agencies that address criminal violations (Justice, 2004).
The three agencies areresponsible of processing the suspects and convicting defenders. They areinterdependent of each other if the crime at hand affects the other agency.Each state out of the fifty states has its own independent criminal justicesystem. The states have organized criminal systems such as court of appeal,parole boards, and state prisons among others where both serious and minoroffences are handled. The minor offences are defined by the state statutes thatauthorize community sentences that are processed by local officials.Conversely, major offences are processed by local prosecutors, police,pretrial, attorneys, probation officers, and also trial judges.
The type of sentencevaries with the type of crime committed.The Branches of Criminal Justice System in the U.SThe primary structure of criminal justice system isprovided by the three branches of government which are executive, judiciary andlegislature (Mason & Stephenson, 2015). Thethree branches focus on criminal offences at difference stages in the legalfield. Legislature is responsible for creating the constitutional laws.
It isheaded by congress which is made up of two houses. Each of the 50 states isrepresented by two senators. Legislature checks on both judiciary and executiveand has the power to impeach the president and a governor according to theconstitutional law of the state. On the other hand, executive enforces lawsconstituted by legislature. The governor of the state heads executive in thestate’s government whereas the president heads the executive in the federalgovernment. The president has power to nominate judges and justices in thefederal government who can serve in the executive for life. Similarly, thegovernor can appoint judges and justices as proposed by the legislature of thestate. Like the legislature, the executive has the balancing role between thejudiciary and the legislature.
Additionally, judiciary in both state and federalconstitutions interprets laws. The Supreme Court heads the federal judiciary.The state’s judiciary is headed by the highest-level state appellate court.
Themembers of judiciary include all justices and judges in both federal and stategovernments. Like executive and legislature, the judiciary checks on bothexecutive and legislature to enhance balance. The judiciary evaluates the actsof legislature to determine their conformity to the American constitution. Inthe event that the legislative act conflict with the constitution, thejudiciary has the power to strike it down through the appellate court.Therefore, the three branches of government are interdependent, and they workfor the success of both state and federal governments.Criminal LawsIn U.
S, criminal laws are enacted by the legislativebody. At the state level, legislative bodies have the power to enact ordinancesfor only minor crimes if only they do not contradict with the criminal laws ofthe state concerning the given conduct. Criminal laws are usually written in ageneral language to enable the courts to have the power to interpret themeasily.
However, the affirmative defenses lack specified statutory basis, whichmeans that the court must define its ruling on the basis of the crimecommitted. The law categories determine penalties of crimes. The criminal lawof United States determines three types of crime which are violations (pettyoffenses), felonies, and misdemeanors (Nadelmann,2010). Violation offenses are not deemed as crimes and hence they arepunished by fines or simple non-custodial penalties.
They include negligibleregulatory faults and traffic violations. Normally, committing minor offenseswill only require the defendant to pay fines without appearing in court.Furthermore, felonies are serious offenses that arepunishable by more than one-year imprisonment. The type of felony offensesinclude kidnapping, robbery, rape, arson, forgery, theft, possession of illegalweapons, and possession of embezzled property among others.
The defendants maybe imprisoned in local jails if their jail term is not long. Additionally,misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies. They include violation ofserious traffic laws, and disruption of public order. Usually, misdemeanors arehandled under less serious procedures and jail term range from ninety days toone year. Therefore, misdemeanors offenses are usually tried at the municipalcourt while felony cases are tried in either county or multicounty courtlevels.Sentencing Laws and Punishment PurposesThe criminal laws determine the type of punishment fordifferent offenses. Also, the criminal codes sometimes determine the purpose ofa particular criminal sentence and the length that an offender is expected toserve. Unfortunately, the purposes of punishments are not usually defined wellwhich leaves a room for the court to apply and also interpret the sentencegoals.
There are five purposes for punishing offenders of the law which includedenunciation, rehabilitation, deterrence, retribution and incapacitation (Frase, 2005). Rehabilitation is done throughtreatment or training the defendant. The purpose of each strategy is to preventfuture crime by the law offender by restraining them for a given period of timedepending on the severity of crime committed.
However, retribution is not skewed towards crime prevention but imposingpenalties that are equally proportional to the type of crime committed.Retributivism theory states that sentences must be lenient, hence, there arepunishment scales ranging from lower to upper bound. Thus, the primary purposeof the five categories is to rectify the offender’s behavior and preventingfuture crime.Additionally, the international and constitutionalhuman rights laws forbid imposing inhuman punishments to law breakers.Recently, the modern courts have endorsed restorative justice that seeks topromote reconciliation and healing between the victim and the offender. The restorativejustice also seeks to promote community participation in processes ofsentencing and punishment of law offenders. Also, there is another new goal ofpunishment whereby the offender must not be released before the stated jailterm.
However, there are reforms that are based on character transformation ofan offender regarding their behavior change while serving their jail term. If adefendant cooperates well, he or she should be rewarded by reduction of theirjail term. Generally, cooperation helps to reduce severity of punishment byadoption of a more lenient punishment that is flexible to the offender. Notably, corrections agents and trial judges mustcooperate in application of limitations and purposes of punishment. Forinstance, it is within their capacity to decide on enforcement policies toemploy for a given offence whereby an offender is found in possession of stolenproperty. In such an instance, they should determine the purpose of the offenceso that they may apply the appropriate category. Unfortunately, due toindefinite definition of punishment purposes, criminal justice agents may failto apply consistent purpose, thus, leading to problematic results.
Besides,there exist philosophical differences between human beings, which might resultto errors in administering the goals and purposes of punishments. As a result,an offender may not always receive a corresponding punishment for the crimecommitted. For instance, a drug addict defendant might be punished by a jailterm imprisonment instead of rehabilitation. In such a case, the offender mightnot fully transform because what he/she requires is training in therehabilitation center. Therefore, criminal justice systems have conflictingaspects in terms of goals and values, especially in administration ofpunishment decisions.Stages of processing a Criminal CaseIn a criminal case, the first step is usuallydefinition of the behavior as a crime. At this stage, the law offender gets thespecified penalties. In some instances, the police begin investigations evenbefore the offense is committed in order to come up with evidences especiallyin cases where evidence is difficult to get such as in prostitution offenses.
The minor offenses are dealt with by law enforcement officers if the offensesare not reported to the police by the victim or the witnesses. Unfortunately,the police may receive an offense report but fail to take an action at alldepending on the nature of crime. At times, they may also lack skill to takethe offense to the next level or even, they may be unwilling if they deem theoffense beyond their ability. In other instances, they may deem the offense asminor and thus, they only give an informal warning to the offender. However,the police may decide to take the crime to the next level especially if theoffense is serious. In such a case, they examine the circumstance and thenature of crime, then, they arrest the offender. If the crime is serious, thepolice investigations may last for months while the criminal is detained inprison until satisfactory evidence is found to support the charges on thesuspect. In some instances, the suspect is not arrested but is made to attendcourt hearings.
After the evidence is found, the court determines the severityof the crime which may result to the release or a jail sentence for thesuspect. Therefore, cases are charged or dismissed at this first stage.Furthermore, prosecutors may decide to screen outcases if they lack evidence and the offender is willing to testify in the courtof law. In the event that charges are filed against the offender, the defendantis expected to attend the first court hearings where s/he receives adviceconcerning the charges. Minor charges may be disposed in the first courthearing. Also, detention and pretrial issues might be ventilated over so thatthe defendant may request for reduction of bail if it is provided by the law.At this stage, detention decision is based on custodial sentence. The pretrialand trial procedure take place outside the court whereby one may have a pleabargaining.
The plea bargaining involves reduction of penalty charges orrecommendation of a lenient sentence. However, some legal professionalscriticize plea bargaining since decisions are made by prosecutors other thanjudges who may risk the lives of innocent persons by paying an inconsequentialjail term.Alternative Sentencing in Criminal Justice System in the U.SDespite the extensive use of prison sentences in theU.S, the criminal justice system allows for alternative sentencing (Mauer & King, 2007).
These sentence optionsare accompanied by probationary supervision, delayed court hearing or suspendedjail term. After a sentence is imposed, the defendant is given a specifiedperiod for filing an appeal. Most states allow the offenders to file two stagesof appeal. The first one is open to all defendants whereby the appeal is heardby the regional court of appeals. On the other hand, the second appeal is donein the state supreme court with the permission of the court.
Importantly, alloffenders who have been sentenced in court are expected to begin their jailterm despite having filed an appeal.There are a few qualifications in community sentencefor the defendants. The offender must have committed a non-violent crime suchas drug dealing, lacks previous criminal record, demonstrates the ability totransform through rehabilitation, and demonstrates willingness to become sober,ands/he must complete a mental health evaluation test by an addictioncounselor.
Alternative sentencing proves to be the best program for the drugaddicts and dealers other than serving a jail term. Rehabilitation can take placeat the federal level, state or county level courts depending on the severity ofthe offense committed. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 provides foralternative sentencing for drug-related crimes. Therefore, the Act allows themodern courts to grant rehabilitation options to first time law offenders innon-violent crimes and drug abuse offenses. ConclusionAll in all, community sentence requires totalcommitment for the offender to complete the program effectively. The candidatemust also cooperate with the addiction counselor t receive regular drugscreening. The sentence option is indeed advantageous to both the community andthe offender, since the defendant can continue working for the community andhence the community receives their contributions. Thus, alternative sentencingis important for non-violent law offenders and drug dealers, as it helps tocorrect their behavior without introducing other anti-social behaviors.
ReferencesFrase,R. S. (2005). Punishment purposes. Stanford Law Review, 67-83.
Justice,C. (2004). A review of the reformed youth justice system. The AuditCommission.Mason,A. T.
, & Stephenson, G. (2015). American constitutional law:introductory essays and selected cases. Routledge.Mauer,M., & King, R. S. (2007).
Uneven justice: State rates ofincarceration by race and ethnicity (pp. 1-23). Washington, DC:Sentencing Project.Nadelmann,E. A.
(2010). Cops across borders: The internationalization of UScriminal law enforcement. Penn State Press.