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The Deal with Prison Alternatives

By Criminal Defense Attorney on June 12, 2018

When people are convicted of crimes, they may think that serving jail time is their only option. But in many cases, Southern California judges opt for alternative sentences. An alternative sentence is one that does not include jail time but some other form of punishment to deter the individual from committing another crime in the future.

Judges impose alternative sentencing for a number of reasons. They look carefully at the facts and use their own discretion as to whether an alternative sentence is more appropriate for this defendant. But that does not mean all judges automatically look for alternatives to jail while sentencing someone. In any case, a criminal defense attorney can fight for a defendant’s rights and persuade the judge to choose an alternative sentence, if necessary.

Alternative Sentences You Find in California

When judges consider alternative sentencing, they have a few options at their disposal. They may choose one alternative sentence, or a combination. For example, a judge may sentence someone convicted of a crime to community service, and also put him on probation.

Here is what each alternative sentence includes:

  • Suspended sentence means the judge either does not hand down a sentence, or determines what the sentence will be but does not carry it out right away. These sentences are often used when the crime was not serious, or when the person convicted is a first-time offender. Suspended sentences can be conditional or unconditional. An unconditional suspended sentence will lift the sentence completely, with no further requirements from the convicted. A conditional suspended sentence can be placed on hold by the judge. But the judge will also have requirements for the defendant, such as enrolling in a substance abuse program. As long as the defendant fulfills those conditions, the sentence will remain suspended.
  • Probation allows people to return to their lives and community, but they will have certain restrictions placed on them. They may not be able to drink alcohol, for example, and may be forced not to associate with certain people, such as an ex-spouse. If the defendant breaks these restrictions, the judge may revoke or tighten the probation.
  • Fines may be used singly if the crime was not serious, or in conjunction with another sentence if the crime was serious. A fine levied for a criminal act will likely be much more expensive than a fine for a traffic offense, such as speeding.
  • Paying restitution is similar to paying fines. Those found guilty will have to make a payment as punishment for their crimes. In making restitution, the money paid is given to the victims of the crime or their families, whereas fines are paid directly to the government. An alternative sentence could include both fines and restitution.
  • Community service is fairly common and many people know about it. When sentenced to community service, the defendant will have to perform some sort of service that will benefit the community. This could be cleaning up highways, performing janitorial services at a hospital, or other services.
  • Deferred adjudication, or pretrial diversion, sounds similar to a suspended sentence. However, there is a big difference. When a deferred adjudication has been ordered, the defendant is required to complete certain conditions, such as entering a substance abuse program. But, this must happen before a trial even begins. When defendants fulfill the requirements, they can then have their charges dismissed.

When Alternative Sentences Are Used

Judges tend to choose alternative sentences that will be most beneficial to the victim, as well as to the person convicted.

In many cases, alternative sentences are used to provide a stern warning and deterrent to the defendant. This is especially true for first-time offenders, or those who did not commit a serious crime. By imposing alternative sentences, the judge both gives the defendant a second chance and prevents the jail/prison from becoming more congested. In addition, a judge may think that a defendant would benefit more from rehabilitation than serving jail time. If someone is charged with a first DUI, for example, a judge may sentence her to community service and require that she enroll in a substance abuse program in lieu of jail.

The age of the defendant may also be a consideration for an alternative sentence. When a defendant is young, the judge may decide jail time is not appropriate. However, when the crime committed is a serious one, under California law, a judge can sentence minors over the age of 14 as adults.

When to Hire an Attorney

Alternative sentences can be very beneficial for someone convicted of a crime. In addition to not having to serve time in jail, people can continue on with their lives, earn an income for their families, and rehabilitate at the same time.

While alternative sentences are a possibility in criminal court, there is no guarantee that a judge will choose to impose one. You need a skilled criminal defense team to fight your rights and build a strong argument for alternative sentencing, if they cannot get the charges dismissed. For a free consultation with the lawyers at San Diego’s JD Law about your unique situation, please call (760) 630-2000. We have had great success in gaining alternative sentencing for our clients when necessary, but our goal is always to get those charges dropped altogether.

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James N. Dicks

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