It is actually the judge, and not the jury who determines the punishments for a crime committed. However, in cases that result in capital punishment, the jury can decide if they will recommend life imprisonment or death penalty).
According to the Eight Amendment, it is stated that in a criminal case, excessive fines, unreasonable punishments and unusual penalties be not imposed. Hence, the constitution has provided standards on how federal courts determine sentences. On the other hand, state laws govern state court procedures.
Most crimes are detailed in statutes or constitutions, as well as the provision that identifies the actual crime and the appropriate punishment for it. As an example, one statute may say “The violation of this statute will constitute a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine that will not exceed $600 or imprisonment that will not exceed 45 days, or both.” With this range of penalties, the judge will then look at the other mitigating or aggravating circumstances in order to determine where in the spectrum will the crime’s punishment be.
Here are some of the considerations taken by judges when determining sentences:
- If the defendant is a repeat or first time offender
- If the defendant was the main offender, or was only an accessory to the crime
- If the defendant commit the crime under duress or great personal stress
- If anyone else was hurt, and if the crime was done in a way that will likely not result in anyone else being hurt
- If the defendant had been cruel to the victim, or had been vindictive, destructive, etc.
- If the defendant is remorseful and contrite
Under the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure, the court must afford the defendant’s counsel an opportunity to speak. The court will personally address the defendant and ask if he or she wants to make a statement on his or her own behalf, in order to present any information to try and mitigate the punishment. The government’s attorney will also have an equal opportunity to address the court. The same provisions are written in most state procedural rules and statues. Furthermore, there are state courts in which it is the decedent’s survivors – often the family, who will have the opportunity to address the court and be able to make recommendations in making the sentence more lenient or strict.
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