Phillip A. Linder
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An overview of the types of alternative sentences

When a defendant has been convicted of a crime, the sentence could come in several forms other than incarceration. Texas courts take many factors into consideration before handing down sentences, including the severity and type of crime committed, how the victims were affected, and the defendant's age, criminal history and remorse.

Fines and probation are two common alternative sentences in criminal cases. Fines are often levied against people when they violate traffic laws such as speeding, but individuals who are convicted of more serious crimes usually pay more substantial sums. The courts generally impose such fines to deter criminality in the future and to help compensate the state. Probation is typically granted to low-risk or first-time offenders, allowing them to return to the community under certain restrictions. The probation could be modified or revoked if they violate the conditions.

Sometimes the courts order community service in exchange for incarceration, reduced fines or both. The purpose of this alternative sentence is to benefit to the community, and it is also hoped that the defendants learn from their work experience. Restitution is another alternative that the defendants are ordered to pay to the victims. This sentence is often handed down when the victims suffer financial damages and is intended to restore their financial standing to before the crime.

Furthermore, the courts can issue conditional or unconditional suspended sentences to refrain from handing down sentences or carrying out sentences. There are no strings attached with an unconditional suspended sentence. With a conditional suspended sentence, however, the court can wait to impose or execute the sentence as long as the defendant abides by the conditions.

While an alternative sentence is generally handed down following a trial, a criminal defense lawyer may tried to explore some of these alternatives with the prosecutor prior to trial. Such a plea negotiation could involve the defendant entering a guilty plea to a lesser charge and paying a fine in exchange for avoiding incarceration.

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