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In the United States justice system, judges determine punishment. While they have guidelines to follow, judges typically have some flexibility in deciding what punishment the offender will face.

The sentencing portion of the criminal process is when the exact legal punishment is determined. No matter how you arrive at your verdict, whether through a plea bargain with the district attorney, trial, or simply plead guilty at the outset, there will be a sentencing phase where various types of punishment will be considered.

For lesser charges the punishment is normally handed down quite fast, however with serious crimes the sentencing phase is a long process, with the judge receiving input from the attorneys on both sides.

The sentencing judge will consider many factors when determining the sanction, typically taking into account the defendant’s criminal history, the crime itself, whether the defendant expressed remorse, and the defendant’s personal state of affairs.

Depending on the crime the judge will have to apply certain sanctions, which can vary greatly. Typical punishment includes:

Suspended sentences and probation are common sanctions imposed by the courts. For many defendants this gives them an opportunity to prove that they can remain viable, productive members of the community.

For the state it allows for the release from or avoidance of prison, a positive effort by the state in that prison is expensive and many facilities are quite overcrowded in the United States.

There are many conditions the defendant must adhere to, however, and any violation can quickly cause the original sentence to be reinstated.

Offenders must typically obey every law (violation of any law will constitute a violation), pay all fines, report to a probation officer, avoid alcohol and drugs, submit to alcohol and drug testing, avoid certain people (such as convicts), and only travel in or to permitted areas.

The 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution, applied to all the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically asserts that cruel and unusual punishment shall not be applied to anyone convicted of a crime. The 8th Amendment thereby guarantees the basic rights of those convicted even after their sentence and punishment has been passed down.

Although no specific definition for cruel and unusual punishment exists, common sense dictates the intention of the Founders was to secure the basic rights and humanity of prisoners and convicts, and to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.

To give someone who committed petty theft life in prison would clearly violate the intention of the eighth amendment, as would not offering prisoners basic rights such as food, shelter, proper waste disposal, etc.


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