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Updated: 4/13/2007 3:35 pm
When a defendant is convicted of a crime, it's generally the judge's duty to pronounce sentence. In cases involving capital offenses in most states, the jury decides on the sentence. The law allows a number of forms of punishment, including fines, a period of probation, community service, incarceration, or other forms of punishment. Sentences can be 'determinate' or 'indeterminate.' A determinate sentence, which is often stipulated by the law, is specific in its type and duration, for example 'ten years in state prison.' The period of time actually served in prison may be shortened as a result of parole or time off for good behavior. In other cases, the law stipulates a minimum and a maximum period of incarceration, and the judge pronounces a sentence such as 'not less than five or more than 20 years in state prison.' In this case, the prisoner's release from prison is at the discretion of prison officials. A sentence can be suspended, in which case it's put on hold for a certain period and made contingent on certain conditions, such as the completion of a rehabilitation program. If the terms of the suspension are broken, the judge can immediately order that the original sentence be carried out. An offender can also be put on probation, which is an obligation to obey all laws and other probation conditions for a specified period. If the offender violates probation, he or she is returned to court and punished both for the original crime and the probation violation. For more information about sentencing, consult an attorney.

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