blog home Criminal Defense California Determinate vs. Indeterminate Sentences

California Determinate vs. Indeterminate Sentences

By San Diego Attorney on August 20, 2023

Judge holding a gavel.

Although the main focus of a criminal trial may be on a verdict of not guilty, sentencing is also a major concern. Under California law, many criminal statutes require specific lengths of jail sentences or determinate sentencing. On the other hand, indeterminate sentencing allows for a wider range of potential penalties and gives more discretion to judges.

What Is Determinate Sentencing?

Determinate sentencing is a sentence upon conviction of a criminal charge with a set amount of jail time. A parole board or any other agency cannot change the sentence. States like California that use determinate sentencing do not give judges as much discretion.

However, depending on the statute, the court may still play an important role in determining sentencing. For many crimes, any of three possible sentence lengths may be handed down at the discretion of the judge.

What Is Indeterminate Sentencing?

An indeterminate sentence consists of a range of years, such as 25 years to life. Although there is always a minimum prison term, the release date is uncertain and may be determined by the parole board in its periodic review of the case.

Parole boards hold hearings to determine when a convicted person is eligible for parole during the range of the sentence. Indeterminate sentencing is generally used for felony offenses punishable by a term in state prison and not usually for less serious crimes.

What Are the Advantages of Determinate and Indeterminate Sentencing?

Currently, determinate sentencing is the rule in many states. Because of the mandatory minimum prison sentences, it is seen as tough on crime. Proponents of determinate sentencing believe it leads to greater fairness in sentencing, as judges have little or no discretion as to the term, and defendants receive similar sentences for similar crimes.

Indeterminate sentencing is based on the theory that prison will rehabilitate some offenders, and the prospect of early release gives prisoners an incentive for good conduct. The goal is for offenders who show the most progress to be paroled closer to the minimum terms. This system can help alleviate overcrowding in prisons. The problem, according to critics, is that it gives too much power to parole boards, leading to arbitrary and discriminatory decisions.

How Does Sentencing Work in California?

The judge will impose a sentence if you plead guilty to a criminal charge or are found guilty after a trial. Both the prosecution and the defendant have the right to request a sentencing hearing. Under the Penal Code, for a misdemeanor offense, this hearing must be held at least six hours after conviction and no more than five days after entry of a guilty or no-contest plea or a trial verdict. With a felony offense, the sentencing hearing must be set within 20 days of a guilty plea or trial verdict.

This hearing gives the defense an opportunity to argue for a reduced sentence, while the prosecution will argue against it or for increased penalties. Rules of evidence are relaxed in sentencing hearings, which may allow the prosecution to rely on evidence that was not available during trial. The defendant is entitled to a chance to object to a sentence.

The judge must abide by certain sentencing guidelines. Most misdemeanor crimes carry indeterminate sentences of up to six months, and most felony offenses have determinate sentencing, with three different possible sentences.

Contact jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys for Skilled Defense Against Criminal Charges

The experience and skills of your San Diego defense lawyer can have a significant impact on sentencing. That’s why you need a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney that can prove to the court that leniency is warranted.

If you are facing criminal charges, jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys can provide the skilled legal representation and guidance you need. Our San Diego legal team is dedicated to building custom-tailored defense strategies so that you can face your charges with confidence.

Since 1990, jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys has been helping countless clients resolve complex cases. Head attorney James N. Dicks is a former Los Angeles Police Department investigator and a Certified Criminal Law Specialist by the California Board of Legal Specialization. He is committed to using his experience and knowledge to help you achieve a favorable outcome.

Contact us at (760) 630-2000 to schedule a free initial consultation. We’re ready to fight for you.

Related Articles:

Posted in: Criminal Defense

Don’t Waste Any Time!
Call us today for a FREE Consultation
(760) 630-2000

James N. Dicks

About James N. Dicks

Don’t Waste Any Time!

Time is of the essence when your future is in jeopardy.
Contact jD LAW today for the aggressive defense you need.