Grand Rapids Criminal Defense Attorney Explains Sentencing Alternatives


As Grand Rapids criminal defense attorneys, one of the biggest misconceptions people have about sentencing is that jail terms are the only alternative. The truth is that a criminal sentence may include a variety of elements in addition to or in lieu of jail time. If you’ve recently been charged with a criminal offense, here are some things you should know about sentencing.


Judges are sometimes required to hand down what are known as “determinate sentences,” which are fixed terms that do not have flexible conditions. An example of a determinate sentence is “30 days in a juvenile detention center.” In other instances, a sentence may be indeterminate, which is a range of time. Indeterminate sentences are given whenever the legislature has previously set forth a minimum and maximum time for certain offenses. Judges then simply order a defendant to serve time, and the actual length of the sentence is later determined by prison officials.


Jail sentences are not always completed inside a correctional facility. Some are performed at home under a program known as “house arrest.” While on house arrest, you will be confined to your own home except during working hours. You may also be required to wear a device that lets officers know your whereabouts at all times. If sentenced to jail, you could be ordered to spend a certain number of weekends behind bars and then be free during the week. A Grand Rapids criminal defense attorney may argue for one of these alternative jail sentences if you are convicted of a minor offense and are at a low risk of reoffending.


Individuals are not always sentenced to jail time immediately. A judge may also “suspend” your sentence until certain conditions have been met. For example, your incarceration may be delayed while you complete a drug or alcohol abuse program or obtain crucial medical treatment. A suspended sentence is something a Grand Rapids criminal defense lawyer may argue strongly for if there are special circumstances that would make delaying incarceration advantageous.


The District Attorney in your case could ask a judge to revoke your suspended sentence if the condition that resulted in it was violated. For example, if you are ordered to attend drug and alcohol counseling but fail to do so, you could then be ordered to jail immediately.


Probation is typically given whenever your offense is relatively minor and you have little or no criminal history. Certain offenses are not eligible for probation, especially violent crimes and major drug offenses. While on probation, you will be supervised by an officer who will ensure you are obeying the law and meeting all the requirements of your sentence. Some conditions that must usually be met while on probation include paying fines and restitution on time, staying away from victims, abstaining from drugs or alcohol and restricting your travel to within a certain distance of the area.


Fines are another form of sentencing that is used in a variety of instances. When accused of a relatively minor crime such as a traffic violation, a fine may be imposed as your only method of punishment. In other instances, fines may be handed down in addition to jail time or probation. The amount of your fine will also vary, as larger fines tend to be given for very serious offenses and smaller ones imposed for minor ones. The legislature sets limits on fines for most offenses to ensure everyone is treated equally under the law.


Restitution and fines are often thought of as being the same thing, but they are actually different. Restitution amounts to money paid to the actual victim or to an organization that deals with victim’s rights. In a theft or fraud case, you might be asked to pay back the amount of money or property that was illegally gained. You can be sentenced to pay restitution and a fine in some cases, depending on the nature of your offense. The role of your Grand Rapids criminal defense lawyer should be to ensure that the amount of fines and restitution combined is not excessive based upon your circumstances.


A judge may also order you to perform certain volunteer work known as community service. The purpose of community service is to allow you to repay your debt to society by making a positive contribution to it. You may be sentenced to perform community service under the supervision of a community corrections officer or asked to complete a certain number of unpaid hours at a non-profit organization. Community service is sometimes given as a condition of probation and may be required in addition to paying fines or restitution.


You could also be given any one of a number of “alternative sentences” such as:

  • Attending drug or alcohol abuse counseling
  • Completing anger management training
  • Attend lectures or seminars hosted by crime victims
  • Installing an ignition interlock device on your vehicle


If you’re facing criminal charges, it’s important you understand the type of sentencing that could be required in your case.

Contact a Grand Rapids criminal defense attorney from Blanchard Law at 616-773-2945 to schedule a consultation to find out more.