If a client pleads guilty or is found guilty after Trial inevitably there must be a sentence imposed by the Court.
The Court when imposing sentence must take into account the type of crime, the law and sentencing guidelines, credit for an early guilty plea, the offender’s criminal history and the offender’s personal and financial circumstances.
Advising a client on the potential sentence is a vital part of providing a professional legal service, it allows clients to make informed decisions on their plea and understand the potential outcome of their case.
It is vitally important that you are represented for any sentencing hearing. A solicitor will mitigate fully on your behalf to obtain you the best possible sentence. Quality advocacy is often the key to obtaining a ‘good’ result.
Available sentences differ for adults and young people (aged 10-17).
There are five main types of sentence that the Court can pass:
- fines and compensation
- disqualification from driving and penalty points
- community sentence
- prison sentence
When the Court decides someone is guilty, but decides not to punish them further at this time, they will be given a ‘discharge’.
Discharges are primarily given for minor offences.
There are two types of discharge:
- an ‘absolute discharge’ means that no more action will be taken
- a ‘conditional discharge’ means that the offender won’t be punished – unless they commit another offence within a set period of time determined by the Court (up to 3 years). If the offender breaches the conditional discharge by committing a further offence within the specified discharge period they can be re-sentenced for the original offence and sentenced additionally for the new offence.
Fines are the most common criminal sentence. They’re usually given for less serious crimes that don’t merit a community or prison sentence, or in some circumstances fines are imposed as an alternative to a community sentence.
How much someone is fined depends on the seriousness of the crime and the offender’s ability to pay.
If the offence causes harm to a victim, the offender can also be required to pay compensation.
A compensation order can be imposed as a sentence without any other penalty.
Disqualification from driving and penalty points
Any court may disqualify an offender from driving on conviction for any offence, either in addition to or instead of any other sentence. It is not a requirement of disqualification that the offence is connected with the use of a motor vehicle.
Penalty points can be added to an offenders driving licence upon conviction for many motoring offences. Depending on they type of licence held and the number of points imposed this can lead to a offender being disqualified from driving for a period of time.
Community sentences are imposed for offences which are too serious for a discharge or a fine to be imposed but not so serious that a custodial sentence must be imposed.
Community sentences place requirements on offenders that they must comply with.
The Court will decide which combination of these requirements will most effectively punish the offender for their crime, while also reducing the risk of them offending again.
Offenders who get community sentences can be ordered to undertake one or more of the following requirements:
- undertake between 40 and 300 hours unpaid work
- Comply with a electronically monitored curfew during hours imposed by the Court for a specified period
- have regular supervision meetings with a probation officer
- complete an accredited programme for issues such as domestic abuse or sexual offending
- complete a treatment requirement for drug or alcohol addiction
- Complete a specified activity requirement
- Comply with a residency requirement
- Comply with a exclusion requirement
- Comply with a prohibited activity requirement
- Comply with a mental health treatment requirement
- go to an attendance centre for a specified number of hours, only available for offenders under 25
If an offender doesn’t keep to the terms of their community sentence, they can be sent back to court and given an additional requirement or extended requirement or a fine as a punishment. In some circumstances the community sentence can be revoked and re-sentenced.
Prison sentences are given when an offence is so serious that it is the only suitable punishment.
A prison sentence will also be given when the court believes the public must be protected from the offender.
There are three different types of prison sentence:
- Suspended sentences
- Determinate sentences
- Indeterminate sentences (including life sentences)
A court may give an adult offender a suspended prison sentence if the time they would otherwise spend in prison is under 12 months. Suspended prison sentences can be suspended for up to two years.
With a suspended sentence, the offender is given a prison sentence but does not go directly to prison. Instead the offender must not commit a further offence during the suspension period and must comply with any community sentence requirement imposed by the Court. See above for the types of requirements available to the Court.
If the offender breaches a community sentence requirement attached to the suspended sentence, or commits another offence during the suspension period the Court can activate the suspended prison sentence, ie, send the offender to prison for all or part of the original prison term imposed, or alternatively increase the severity of the suspended sentence but allow it to continue.
If a court fixes the length of a prison sentence, it’s called a determinate sentence. For example, a Court may say an offender is sentenced to six years.
When an offender is given a determinate sentence, half of the sentence is served in custody and half of the sentence in the community.
Offenders sentenced to 12 months or longer in prison will be put on licence when they are serving the second part of their sentence. This licence is supervised by the Probation Service and includes conditions that offenders must meet. If the offender doesn’t meet the terms of their licence or commits a further offence they can be recalled to prison for part or all of their sentence.
Offenders sentenced to less than two years are released on post sentence supervision for a period of 12 months, with regular meetings with a probation officer and specified requirements. For example, an offender sentenced to 2 months will serve 1 month in prison, 1 month on licence and 11 months on post sentence supervision. If the offender breaches the supervision they can be further punished.
A court can give a sentence setting the minimum time the offender must spend in prison. This is called an indeterminate sentence.
For example, a Court may say an offender must go to prison ‘for a minimum of ten years’. This minimum period set by the judge is called a tariff.
These sentences are usually given for serious violent or sexual offences and where the Court thinks the offender is a risk to the public.
If an offender is given an indeterminate sentence, they have no automatic right to be released. They will always serve the ‘minimum’ sentence set by the court.
When the minimum time in prison is over the Parole Board will decide if it is safe to release an offender under licence.
A life sentence means the offender will be subject to specific conditions for the rest of their life. But only one of these conditions may be a period of time in prison.
For most life sentences, the judge sets a minimum time the offender will spend in prison before being considered for release on licence by the independent Parole Board, who assess whether it’s safe for the offender to be released.
If an offender is released on licence, they’ll be under the supervision of the Probation Service and will have to follow specific rules.
Offenders given life sentences stay under licence for the rest of their life. If they break the terms of their licence at any time, they will be called back to prison.
But in some very serious cases, a judge may give an offender a ‘whole life term’.
This means that there is no minimum term set by the judge, and the offender will never be released.
Life sentences must be given to offenders who are found guilty of murder. A judge may also choose to give a life sentence for serious offences, where the law allows.
Types of sentences for young people
Courts have a range of different sentences they can give offenders aged 10-17. These include:
Discharge – absolute or conditional – these are the same as those for adult offenders
Fine – as with adults, the fine should reflect the offence committed and the offender’s ability to pay. For offenders under 16, paying the fine is the responsibility of a parent/guardian and it will be their ability to pay that is taken into account when setting the level of the fine
Referral order – this requires the offender to attend a youth offender panel (made up of two members of the local community and an advisor from a youth offending team) and agree a contract, containing certain commitments, which will last between three months and a year. The aim is for the offender to make up for the harm caused and address their offending behaviour. An order must be imposed for a first time young offender who has pleaded guilty (unless the court decides that another sentence is justified) and may be imposed in other circumstances.
Youth rehabilitation order – this is a community sentence which can include one or more requirements that the offender must comply with for up to three years. Some examples of the requirements that can be imposed are a curfew, supervision, unpaid work, drug treatment, mental health treatment and education requirements.
Custodial sentences – young offenders can receive custodial sentences called a Detention and Training Order (DTO). They will only be imposed in the most serious cases. When they are given, they aim to provide training and education and rehabilitate the offender so they don’t reoffend. Sentences can be spent in secure children’s homes, secure training centres and young offender institutions.
If a young person between 12 and 17 years old is sentenced in the youth court, a DTO can last between four months and two years.
In the Crown Court, a DTO can also be given for a young person aged between 10 and 17 and for a longer period than two years if necessary.
If you need any legal representation, we have offices in London & the Home Counties so please contact us.
Nb. This guide is intended to give general information only and not intended to be used as the basis upon which Advice is given nor should it be relied upon as giving advice specific to a case or individual and Lawtons do not accept liability for anyone using this guide. Should you require specific advice in connection with a real case or situation, please contact us immediately so that we can provide specific Advice