New York judges have some degree of discretion in handing down sentences in certain types of criminal cases. Sentences for major offenses are often prescribed by state or federal law and afford the judge significantly less latitude than in more minor cases. However, in many situations, alternative sentencing is becoming more popular, giving the accused a chance to demonstrate ongoing compliance with the law to the court’s satisfaction. There are many reasons an alternative sentence may be a viable option.
A criminal defense attorney may seek alternative sentencing in the case of a client who does not have a prior criminal record. The client’s age, prior conduct, remorse in front of the court and the overall effect of the alleged offense on any victims are all possible factors in obtaining alternative sentencing. The type of offense and its severity are generally key considerations, and ideally judges will take all these matters into account.
Examples of alternative sentencing rather than jail or prison time include community service, where the defendant is required to work for a set time at some task of benefit to the community, or restitution, where the defendant is ordered by the court to pay for financial harm to the alleged victims. Fines, probation and deferred-adjudication programs where the offender enters a court-mandated program in exchange for a removal of charges upon completion are other forms.
A criminal defense attorney may seek alternative sentencing in cases where the prosecution’s case is strong enough to secure conviction, but the criminal charge or the client’s background does not necessarily warrant or support jail time. The attorney might consider factors such as the client’s overall conduct, any criminal history the client may have and the circumstances surrounding the alleged offense. However, the final decision as to whether to grant alternative sentencing resides with the judge.