Introduction of sentence varies with the type of


Alternative sentencing is also referred to as
non-custodial sentence or community sentence. 
It is a term used in criminal justice to refer to all alternative ways
used by courts to punish defendants who have been convicted of breaching the
law, other than using a capital punishment or custodial sentence. The adoption
of alternative sentencing helps the offender to avoid consequences associated
with imprisonment such as revolving door syndrome. Furthermore, it helps to
reduce crowding in prisons as well as reduce the cost of imprisonment. In
United States, those offenders who commit minor offences receive alternative
sentencing such as curfew, unpaid work, rehabilitation, apologies to the
victim, and house arrest among others. Therefore, this paper will examine the
administration of the courts when addressing sentence alternatives in the
United States.

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The criminal justice system is composed of state,
local and federal agencies that address criminal violations (Justice, 2004). The three agencies are
responsible of processing the suspects and convicting defenders. They are
interdependent of each other if the crime at hand affects the other agency.
Each state out of the fifty states has its own independent criminal justice
system. The states have organized criminal systems such as court of appeal,
parole boards, and state prisons among others where both serious and minor
offences are handled. The minor offences are defined by the state statutes that
authorize 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 sentence
varies with the type of crime committed.

The Branches of Criminal Justice System in the U.S

The primary structure of criminal justice system is
provided by the three branches of government which are executive, judiciary and
legislature (Mason & Stephenson, 2015). The
three branches focus on criminal offences at difference stages in the legal
field. Legislature is responsible for creating the constitutional laws. It is
headed by congress which is made up of two houses. Each of the 50 states is
represented by two senators. Legislature checks on both judiciary and executive
and has the power to impeach the president and a governor according to the
constitutional law of the state. On the other hand, executive enforces laws
constituted by legislature. The governor of the state heads executive in the
state’s government whereas the president heads the executive in the federal
government. The president has power to nominate judges and justices in the
federal government who can serve in the executive for life. Similarly, the
governor can appoint judges and justices as proposed by the legislature of the
state. Like the legislature, the executive has the balancing role between the
judiciary and the legislature.

Additionally, judiciary in both state and federal
constitutions interprets laws. The Supreme Court heads the federal judiciary.
The state’s judiciary is headed by the highest-level state appellate court. The
members of judiciary include all justices and judges in both federal and state
governments. Like executive and legislature, the judiciary checks on both
executive and legislature to enhance balance. The judiciary evaluates the acts
of legislature to determine their conformity to the American constitution. In
the event that the legislative act conflict with the constitution, the
judiciary has the power to strike it down through the appellate court.
Therefore, the three branches of government are interdependent, and they work
for the success of both state and federal governments.

Criminal Laws

In U.S, criminal laws are enacted by the legislative
body. At the state level, legislative bodies have the power to enact ordinances
for only minor crimes if only they do not contradict with the criminal laws of
the state concerning the given conduct. Criminal laws are usually written in a
general language to enable the courts to have the power to interpret them
easily. However, the affirmative defenses lack specified statutory basis, which
means that the court must define its ruling on the basis of the crime
committed. The law categories determine penalties of crimes. The criminal law
of United States determines three types of crime which are violations (petty
offenses), felonies, and misdemeanors (Nadelmann,
2010). Violation offenses are not deemed as crimes and hence they are
punished by fines or simple non-custodial penalties. They include negligible
regulatory faults and traffic violations. Normally, committing minor offenses
will only require the defendant to pay fines without appearing in court.

Furthermore, felonies are serious offenses that are
punishable by more than one-year imprisonment. The type of felony offenses
include kidnapping, robbery, rape, arson, forgery, theft, possession of illegal
weapons, and possession of embezzled property among others. The defendants may
be imprisoned in local jails if their jail term is not long. Additionally,
misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies. They include violation of
serious traffic laws, and disruption of public order. Usually, misdemeanors are
handled under less serious procedures and jail term range from ninety days to
one year. Therefore, misdemeanors offenses are usually tried at the municipal
court while felony cases are tried in either county or multicounty court

Sentencing Laws and Punishment Purposes

The criminal laws determine the type of punishment for
different offenses. Also, the criminal codes sometimes determine the purpose of
a particular criminal sentence and the length that an offender is expected to
serve. Unfortunately, the purposes of punishments are not usually defined well
which leaves a room for the court to apply and also interpret the sentence
goals. There are five purposes for punishing offenders of the law which include
denunciation, rehabilitation, deterrence, retribution and incapacitation (Frase, 2005). Rehabilitation is done through
treatment or training the defendant. The purpose of each strategy is to prevent
future crime by the law offender by restraining them for a given period of time
depending on the severity of crime committed. 
However, retribution is not skewed towards crime prevention but imposing
penalties that are equally proportional to the type of crime committed.
Retributivism theory states that sentences must be lenient, hence, there are
punishment scales ranging from lower to upper bound. Thus, the primary purpose
of the five categories is to rectify the offender’s behavior and preventing
future crime.

Additionally, the international and constitutional
human rights laws forbid imposing inhuman punishments to law breakers.
Recently, the modern courts have endorsed restorative justice that seeks to
promote reconciliation and healing between the victim and the offender. The restorative
justice also seeks to promote community participation in processes of
sentencing and punishment of law offenders. Also, there is another new goal of
punishment whereby the offender must not be released before the stated jail
term. However, there are reforms that are based on character transformation of
an offender regarding their behavior change while serving their jail term. If a
defendant cooperates well, he or she should be rewarded by reduction of their
jail term. Generally, cooperation helps to reduce severity of punishment by
adoption of a more lenient punishment that is flexible to the offender. 

Notably, corrections agents and trial judges must
cooperate in application of limitations and purposes of punishment. For
instance, it is within their capacity to decide on enforcement policies to
employ for a given offence whereby an offender is found in possession of stolen
property. In such an instance, they should determine the purpose of the offence
so that they may apply the appropriate category. Unfortunately, due to
indefinite definition of punishment purposes, criminal justice agents may fail
to apply consistent purpose, thus, leading to problematic results. Besides,
there exist philosophical differences between human beings, which might result
to errors in administering the goals and purposes of punishments. As a result,
an offender may not always receive a corresponding punishment for the crime
committed. For instance, a drug addict defendant might be punished by a jail
term imprisonment instead of rehabilitation. In such a case, the offender might
not fully transform because what he/she requires is training in the
rehabilitation center. Therefore, criminal justice systems have conflicting
aspects in terms of goals and values, especially in administration of
punishment decisions.

Stages of processing a Criminal Case

In a criminal case, the first step is usually
definition of the behavior as a crime. At this stage, the law offender gets the
specified penalties. In some instances, the police begin investigations even
before the offense is committed in order to come up with evidences especially
in cases where evidence is difficult to get such as in prostitution offenses.
The minor offenses are dealt with by law enforcement officers if the offenses
are 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 all
depending on the nature of crime. At times, they may also lack skill to take
the offense to the next level or even, they may be unwilling if they deem the
offense beyond their ability. In other instances, they may deem the offense as
minor 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 the
offense is serious. In such a case, they examine the circumstance and the
nature of crime, then, they arrest the offender. If the crime is serious, the
police investigations may last for months while the criminal is detained in
prison until satisfactory evidence is found to support the charges on the
suspect. In some instances, the suspect is not arrested but is made to attend
court hearings. After the evidence is found, the court determines the severity
of the crime which may result to the release or a jail sentence for the
suspect. Therefore, cases are charged or dismissed at this first stage.

Furthermore, prosecutors may decide to screen out
cases if they lack evidence and the offender is willing to testify in the court
of law. In the event that charges are filed against the offender, the defendant
is expected to attend the first court hearings where s/he receives advice
concerning the charges. Minor charges may be disposed in the first court
hearing. Also, detention and pretrial issues might be ventilated over so that
the 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 pretrial
and trial procedure take place outside the court whereby one may have a plea
bargaining. The plea bargaining involves reduction of penalty charges or
recommendation of a lenient sentence. However, some legal professionals
criticize plea bargaining since decisions are made by prosecutors other than
judges who may risk the lives of innocent persons by paying an inconsequential
jail term.

Alternative Sentencing in Criminal Justice System in the U.S

Despite the extensive use of prison sentences in the
U.S, the criminal justice system allows for alternative sentencing (Mauer & King, 2007). These sentence options
are accompanied by probationary supervision, delayed court hearing or suspended
jail term. After a sentence is imposed, the defendant is given a specified
period for filing an appeal. Most states allow the offenders to file two stages
of appeal. The first one is open to all defendants whereby the appeal is heard
by the regional court of appeals. On the other hand, the second appeal is done
in the state supreme court with the permission of the court. Importantly, all
offenders who have been sentenced in court are expected to begin their jail
term despite having filed an appeal.

There are a few qualifications in community sentence
for the defendants. The offender must have committed a non-violent crime such
as drug dealing, lacks previous criminal record, demonstrates the ability to
transform through rehabilitation, and demonstrates willingness to become sober,
ands/he must complete a mental health evaluation test by an addiction
counselor. Alternative sentencing proves to be the best program for the drug
addicts and dealers other than serving a jail term. Rehabilitation can take place
at the federal level, state or county level courts depending on the severity of
the offense committed. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 provides for
alternative sentencing for drug-related crimes. Therefore, the Act allows the
modern courts to grant rehabilitation options to first time law offenders in
non-violent crimes and drug abuse offenses.


All in all, community sentence requires total
commitment for the offender to complete the program effectively. The candidate
must also cooperate with the addiction counselor t receive regular drug
screening. The sentence option is indeed advantageous to both the community and
the offender, since the defendant can continue working for the community and
hence the community receives their contributions. Thus, alternative sentencing
is important for non-violent law offenders and drug dealers, as it helps to
correct their behavior without introducing other anti-social behaviors.




R. S. (2005). Punishment purposes. Stanford Law Review, 67-83.

C. (2004). A review of the reformed youth justice system. The Audit

A. T., & Stephenson, G. (2015). American constitutional law:
introductory essays and selected cases. Routledge.

M., & King, R. S. (2007). Uneven justice: State rates of
incarceration by race and ethnicity (pp. 1-23). Washington, DC:
Sentencing Project.

E. A. (2010). Cops across borders: The internationalization of US
criminal law enforcement. Penn State Press.


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