Most people have had to pay a fine at some point, usually in the form of a speeding or parking ticket. People convicted of more serious crimes also have to pay fines in many situations, although the amount of the fine is usually much more substantial than a traffic ticket. The purposes of imposing a criminal fine are to punish the offender, help compensate the state for the offense, and deter any future criminal acts.
Below, you'll find information about how fines are imposed and the differences between fines and restitution.
Sentencing: How and Why Fines Are Imposed
After someone is convicted of a crime, the sentencing judge has the discretion to impose a criminal fine on the convicted defendant. Sometimes, the fine takes the place of a prison sentence or probation. In other situations, the judge can sentence a defendant to a fine in conjunction with a period of time behind bars or on probation.
The decision to levy a criminal fine in lieu of prison time or probation can depend on a number of factors, including:
- The type of crime;
- The severity of the crime;
- The circumstances surrounding the crime (for example, whether the defendant was under duress or extreme stress);
- The defendant's criminal history;
- Testimony of a defendant's loved ones;
- Measures the defendant has taken to correct their mistakes; or
- Whether or not the criminal statute in question carries minimum sentencing requirements.
Judges typically impose fines with no accompanying prison time or probation as an alternative sentence for minor crimes or first-time offenses. A fine is still a criminal sentence, however, and the defendant will have a criminal history even if they avoid prison time and merely pay a fine.
Another time when fines can be discussed is during the plea bargain process. At this point, your criminal defense attorney enters negotiations with the prosecution to resolve your case without having to go to trial. This could result in a reduction of the charges against your or even a reduced sentence, such as payment of a fine instead of prison time.
Fines vs. Restitution
Both criminal fines and restitution require the defendant to pay money as punishment for a crime, but they differ in one key way. While fines are paid to the government, restitution is paid to the victims of a crime for the injuries they suffered as a result of that crime. For example, if a graffiti artist spray painted a public bench, he may be fined for vandalism. On the other hand, if the graffiti artist spray painted a house, he may be ordered to pay restitution to the homeowners in addition to any fines.
Questions About Fines? Get in Touch with an Attorney
When compared to prison, a sentence involving a fine and probation may seem like a walk in the park. While there are no guarantees in any case, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you make the case for a lighter sentence. To learn more about your options, reach out to a criminal defense attorney in your area today.