Understanding the Criminal and Civil Justice Systems

Following a guilty verdict or plea and prior to sentencing, most courts order the probation department to conduct a pre- sentence investigation on the defendant to collect information about what sentence would be most appropriate. The

Many factors come into play when deciding on an offender’s sentence.

investigation report will include the defendant’s work history, criminal record history, and family history. A convicted offender

may be sent to jail or prison for few or many years. If the prison sentence is probated, conditions of probation can vary widely. The court may consider any mitigating circumstances prior to imposing sentence. Both the state and the defendant are usually allowed to review the pre-sentence report and correct or point out any errors. Victim Impact Statements Laws exist in every state that allow for the victim, or the victim’s family, to provide a written statement to the court about the impact of the crime on their lives. These statements are presented after the defendant has been convicted or pleads guilty and before sentencing (in most states). Oral impact statements may be allowed in your jurisdiction. You may be called to the witness stand to testify about the impact of the crime upon your life. Your statement should not repeat evidence already presented, but should simply tell what the crime has meant to you. Victim Impact Statements usually last three to five minutes.


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