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Alternative Sentencing

Depending on the seriousness of the crime(s), sentencing may involve one or a combination of punishments. Besides prison or jail time, alternative sentencing may include a suspended sentence, probation, a fine, restitution, community service, or diversion. In most criminal cases, unless it is a capital case decided by a jury, the judge will determine the punishment by considering factors like the defendant's age, the impact of the crime on the victims, and the defendant's level of remorse.

Types of Criminal Sentencing


A Texas judge can issue a sentence that is determinate. A determinate sentence is a fixed-term regulated by state statute. A judge will determine the length of a sentence by applying sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentencing, and applicable enhanced sentencing for various crimes.

Suspended Sentences

As an alternative to imprisonment, a judge can suspend a prison or jail sentence. This is typically used in cases involving less serious crimes or for first-time offenders. A suspended sentence can be unconditional or conditional. An unconditional suspended sentence allows the judge to abstain from imposing the proscribed punishment. Nevertheless, the conviction is still a matter of public record.

If the suspended sentence is conditional, the judge can hold off from imposing the punishment for as long as the defendant fulfills the condition of the suspension. Common conditions may include not committing other crimes or enrolling in a substance abuse program. If a defendant violates the terms of a conditional suspension, the judge can impose the original punishment.


A judge may order probation instead of imposing jail or prison time. Probation will require the offender to follow certain conditions. Standard probation will compel the offender to regularly report to a probation officer, while another, more invasive form of probation may involve GPS monitoring or home detention. While on probation, the offender must usually keep a job, not relocate to another state without permission, undergo drug testing, and keep current with obligated payments, such as fines or restitution.

An offender that violates any of the conditions may have probation revoked. A prosecutor can choose to file a complaint asking the judge to revoke probation. Upon the determination that the offender violated probation, the judge can impose the original jail or prison sentence, can reinstate probation, or can order more severe conditions of probation. 


As an alternative to incarceration, a judge may impose a fine. A fine is typically used in cases involving less serious crimes or those involving first-time offenders. A judge may also impose a fine in conjunction with other types of punishments, such as incarceration and probation.


A judge, in conjunction with another type of punishment, may order the offender to pay the victim for the personal injury or the property damage sustained. Restitution is meant to restore the victim and to ensure that the offender is not unjustly enriched. Consequently, a court may order the offender to pay for expenses like medical bills and counseling.

Community Service

As punishment, a judge can order an offender to perform unpaid community service work. This punishment is often used in misdemeanor cases as a way to ensure that the offender repays society for the crime. Community service may involve picking up garbage in a park, clearing brush, or giving lectures about the dangers of the criminal activity. The goals of community service are punishment, reparation, restitution, and rehabilitation.


Rather than impose incarceration in less serious offenses involving misdemeanors, a judge may divert a case. This means that upon the defendant's completion of a condition, like the completion a treatment or rehabilitation program, a judge may drop the criminal charges. Commonly, these types of cases involve drug or alcohol abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence.

Dallas Criminal Defense: The Charles Johnson Law Firm

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