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Understanding alternative sentencing

In many instances, a person convicted of a minor crime in Florida may be given an alternative sentence in place of incarceration. Alternative sentencing is based on the presiding judge's discretion and could include a pretrial diversion or deferred adjudication, community service, restitution, fines, probation or a suspended sentence. The type of alternative sentence a defendant receives is often based on his or her age and criminal background, the type of crime committed, how victims are affected and if the defendant is remorseful.

Pretrial diversion and deferred adjudication allow the defendant to bypass the usual prosecution process in order to fulfill particular conditions, which could lead to a dismissal of charges if those conditions are met. The purpose of these programs is to see if the defendant can behave in a responsible manner, during which time he or she typically undergoes counseling during probation.

A defendant may also be ordered to do community service in exchange for lowered jail time or fines, or both. Likewise, the court may require a defendant to pay restitution or fines as an alternative sentence. Fines are paid to the state, while restitution goes to the crime victims.

Probation allows defendants to return to society for a time, as long as they adhere to strict rules. The court can modify or revoke the probation when defendants violate the conditions of the court. A suspended sentence can either be conditional or unconditional. In a conditional suspended sentence, the presiding judge may defer executing or imposing the penalty while the defendant performs certain conditions such as joining a program that treats drug or alcohol addiction.

Alternative sentencing, while certainly preferable to incarceration for most defendants, can have long-term consequences on a person's criminal record. Those who have been accused of a minor infraction may want to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who may be able to get the charges dismissed under certain circumstances or prevail at a subsequent trial.

Source: FindLaw, "Alternative Sentences", accessed on July 28, 2015

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