Who Decides Sentencing in Criminal Cases?

female judge holding gavel

When it comes to criminal cases, understanding the process of determining sentencing is crucial. Knowing who has the authority to make these decisions can greatly impact the outcome of a case. In this blog post, we will examine the intricacies of who decides sentencing in criminal cases, providing you with valuable insights and practical tips to navigate this complex legal landscape.

Understanding the Key Players:

1. Judges:

Judges play a pivotal role in determining the sentence for a criminal case. They consider various factors such as the severity of the crime, the defendant's criminal history, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Judges have the discretion to impose both fines and incarceration as part of a sentence. They are guided by the law and must adhere to sentencing guidelines set by state or federal laws.

2. Juries:

In some cases, sentencing decisions are made by juries. Juries are made up of a group of citizens who are tasked with determining the guilt or innocence of a defendant. If a defendant is found guilty, the jury may also be responsible for deciding on the appropriate sentence. However, juries typically only have this power in cases where the potential sentence includes the death penalty.

3. Prosecutors:

Prosecutors have the power to influence sentencing decisions through plea bargaining. They may offer a reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, or recommend a particular sentence to the judge. It is important to note that prosecutors are not the sole decision-makers in sentencing and their recommendations are not binding.

4. Defense Attorneys:

Defense attorneys play a crucial role in advocating for their clients during the sentencing phase. They may present mitigating factors or argue for a more lenient sentence on behalf of their client. Defense attorneys also have the option to negotiate with prosecutors to reach a plea agreement that could result in a reduced sentence.

Navigating Sentencing Guidelines:

Understanding the sentencing guidelines established by the government is essential. These guidelines outline the range of possible sentences for a particular crime based on its severity and the defendant's criminal history. However, judges are not required to strictly follow these guidelines and may impose a sentence outside of the recommended range if they deem it appropriate.

The Impact of Mitigating & Aggravating Circumstances:

Mitigating circumstances can lessen the severity of a sentence, while aggravating circumstances can increase it. These circumstances may include factors such as a defendant's level of remorse, their role in the crime, or any past criminal history. It is important for both prosecutors and defense attorneys to present evidence related to these circumstances during the sentencing phase.

Alternative Sentencing Options:

Not all criminal cases result in traditional jail or prison sentences. Alternative sentencing options may be on the table, such as probation, community service, or diversion programs. These options may be offered as an alternative to incarceration or in addition to a shorter sentence. As such, it is important for defendants and their attorneys to explore all possible sentencing options.


Navigating the complexities of who decides sentencing in criminal cases requires a deep understanding of the legal system. By familiarizing yourself with the key players, sentencing guidelines, and alternative options, you can effectively advocate for fair and just outcomes. Remember, having an experienced legal team by your side can make a significant difference.

If you find yourself in need of expert guidance and representation, Viloria, Oliphant, Oster & Aman L.L.P. is here to help. Our dedicated team of attorneys specializes in criminal defense and will work tirelessly to protect your rights and secure the best possible outcome for your case. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.

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