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Non-custodial criminal sentences

There are a number of non-custodial criminal sentences that judges in California may choose to hand down when they feel that jail would not be appropriate. These alternative sentences are often reserved for those accused of committing minor crimes. Judges will make their sentencing decisions based on the impact that the crime had on the victims as well as the prior criminal record of the defendant and their degree of remorse.

A judge may also suspend a custodial sentence. There are often conditions placed on a suspended sentence, and a defendant may be incarcerated if they violate these requirements. Probation is another alternative judges may choose for those facing minor charges. While the defendant is released back into society, they will frequently be required to adhere to conditions such as attending drug rehabilitation programs and not taking part in any further criminal activity.

Sometimes a judge will order defendants to make a financial payment. These payments are known as restitution when paid to crime victims and fines when paid to a governmental authority. Restitution may be ordered by a judge when the property of crime victims is damaged or they suffer some other form of financial loss. Fines are designed to be punitive and are often seen as a way to discourage offenders from repeating their mistakes.

An alternative sentence recommendation is often part of a plea agreement negotiated between criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors. Prosecutors may agree to a reduced sentence for a defendant facing minor charges such as possessing small amounts of marijuana even when their evidence is compelling. They do this because they usually work with heavy caseloads and understand that a trial always involves a certain degree of uncertainty. Judges often welcome such plea arrangements as it removes a case from their dockets and allows them to focus their attentions on more serious matters.

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