Sentencing represents the end of the trial process. Before rendering a sentence, Judges will consider many factors, including the degree of hardship imposed on victims and their families. Mitigating factors, or reasons explaining the defendant’s actions, are weighed against aggravating factors, which are elements that speak to the severity of the crime. A defendant’s prior criminal record weighs heavily, and is an indicator of a defendant’s potential for rehabilitation and the risk of future criminal activity.
In most cases, sentencing Judges have discretion in rendering sentences. Of course, a Judge’s discretion may be limited if there is a plea agreement providing sentencing recommendations. Some crimes, such as convictions for using a gun during a robbery, carry mandatory prison terms. In these cases, the Judge must sentence a defendant to prison for a minimum term.