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How Criminal Sentences Are Determined

If you are facing criminal charges, you may be wondering, “How are criminal sentences determined?” For starters, to be convicted of a crime, you can plead guilty or a jury can find you guilty. If your case goes to trial and the jury finds you guilty, the jury does not determine your sentence. The judge or magistrate is the one who sentences you.

Each criminal statute determines the sentence for a crime. For example, aggravated assault under Section 22.02 of the Texas Penal Code is a felony of the first or second-degree depending on the facts of the case. As a second-degree felony, aggravated assault is punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison under Section 12.33 of the Texas Penal Code.

In the case of aggravated assault, the judge has a lot of room for sentencing. Before deciding on a sentence, the judge will carefully examine the facts of the case. Where applicable, the judge may take state and federal sentencing guidelines into consideration, which may raise a defendant’s sentence.

Aggravating vs. Mitigating Circumstances

When a judge is determining a sentence, he or she will consider the defendant’s aggravating and mitigating circumstances, factors that make a crime more serious, or less serious respectively. In other words, the judge or magistrate weighs all of the negative and positive factors to determine whether the defendant should receive the minimum sentence or the maximum sentence, or somewhere in the middle.

Mitigating circumstances include:

  • It’s the defendant’s first offense
  • The defendant has mental health issues
  • The defendant feels deep remorse
  • The defendant takes responsibility for their actions
  • Other relevant life circumstances

Aggravating circumstances include:

  • The defendant has a record of prior convictions.
  • The defendant is rude and belligerent to the judge, prosecutor, or witnesses.
  • The defendant acts smug and does not show remorse.
  • The crime is particularly disturbing.
  • The victim suffered serious injuries.

If you are facing criminal charges, surely you would be interested in learning about the minimum and maximum penalties for the crime in question. To learn more about sentencing in Texas and what types of defense strategies can be employed in your case, contact our Plano criminal defense firm today.