Alternative Sentencing in California

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingDec 13, 2017

There are various sentences that a judge can impose on a California criminal case, depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding that case. The judge will look at the person's criminal record and what they specifically did in the current case before they pass judgment on a criminal defendant.

However, the truth is that the prosecution and defense have already agreed to, most of the time, the sentence that the judge imposes before the defendant pleads guilty to the crime. There are rare circumstances where the judge gets to decide the punishment for a particular defendant, but this is not the ordinary course of events. 

This is why it is vital to have a criminal defense attorney who has handled similar cases to yours and knows what they are worth, and has the skill to negotiate a favorable disposition for you. Taking into account your life and the issues you have is the first step in deciding what type of alternative sentence might be available to you and one you can deal with.

What Types of Alternative Sentences are Available? 

When we say “alternative sentence,” it should be assumed that the sentence in question is an alternative to jail or prison time. Judges can impose, and the parties can agree to the following penalties:

California Alternative Sentencing Options

Community Service – The community service office of each courthouse will have a list of court-approved community service options for those individuals to complete to satisfy the terms and conditions. If an individual has a physical limitation, then their attorney must get them light community service to avoid further injury and still complete the court's requirements.

Community service is an alternate sentence to jail, which is not as scary but can be time-consuming. The person who agrees to accept it should be wary that they will face jail time for the probation violation if they do not complete it.

Community Labor – If the judge orders you to do community labor, this is usually a substitute for jail time. If you do not complete it in a timely fashion, you can expect to be given jail time to satisfy your obligation to the court.

This form of work is usually more complex than community service, and you can expect to be doing some physical job that requires moving around and actual work. For example, you could be cleaning up a park or beach or doing other physical work.

Fine – If you are ordered to pay a fine, then you should be clear on whether or not a penalty assessment is attached to that fine. As of the writing of this blog, there is a 200% penalty assessment ordered by judges on all fines in Los Angeles and most surrounding counties. As you might guess, this is how the courts make much of their money, and they can be ruthless in collecting it and making sure this alternative sentence is an obligation to the court.

Diversion Program – This type of resolution involves a defendant either pleading guilty to a crime and their sentencing being put over for some time (like a year, for example), or the case is just continued for some time to permit the defendant to complete some work and stay out of trouble. If the person does what they are supposed to and has no new arrests, the case will be dismissed, and the person can move on with their life and avoid a criminal conviction.

Sentence where a Misdemeanor is Earned – Some offenses can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the person's conduct, seriousness, and criminal record. When the case is filed as a felony, it is possible to negotiate with the prosecutors and convince them to give the person a misdemeanor at a future date if they remain arrest-free and complete some agreed-upon punishment. This alternative sentence is an excellent way to earn a misdemeanor and eventually get the case dismissed off your record if you can stay on the straight and narrow.

Cal Trans – This form of punishment is an alternative to jail and is not easy to complete. Cal Trans involves those people you see on the freeways doing road work and cleaning up. This is one of the punishments the prosecutors are most likely to agree to if they initially want jail for the case.

They know this is hard work and that the person has to get up early and typically work a ten-hour day. If you are not a hearty person who can do some work, this punishment is not advisable because if you can not complete it, the judge will likely convert it to jail time.

Can My Criminal Case Be Dismissed? 

One crucial thing that an alternative sentence can do for you and keep you out of jail is set things up so you can get your case dismissed in the end. This is ultimately the goal in all criminal cases. Finding an attorney who knows the different alternative sentences that end in dismissal is crucial to your success in the criminal justice system.

One good alternative sentence is called deferred entry of judgment. In this scenario, you plead guilty to a particular crime, and your sentence is put over to a future date to allow you to serve out an agreed-upon punishment in exchange for a future dismissal.

In this circumstance, when you come back on whatever date was agreed upon by you, your attorney, the prosecutor, and judge, if you have done everything you were supposed to, the guilty plea is taken back, and a not guilty plea is put in the record, and the case is dismissed. This is an alternative sentence that must be negotiated by your attorney and is only available in certain types of crimes and certain types of cases.