UNDERSTANDING YOUR CRIMINAL ATTORNEY: SENTENCING TERMS AND SLANG
What are the different types of sentences that include jail or prison time in New York, and what do they mean for me?
You are facing criminal charges and are now at the point where you must make the decision of whether or not to take a guilty plea. Your attorney explains that the prosecution refuses to offer you a plea without any time spent incarcerated. Negotiations have come to a standstill, and a trial is imminent and looming over your head. You need to make a decision quickly. What should you do?
Of course, the decision of whether to plead guilty to anything or to take a case to trial is a very fact-specific decision that should be thoroughly discussed between you and your criminal defense attorney. Nothing can replace the informed, thoughtful discussions you can have with your criminal defense attorney who should be intimately familiar with your case.
The following is a breakdown of the different types of sentences in New York that include jail or prison time:*
A definite sentence is a specific, set period of jail time that is one year or less.
An example of a definite sentence of jail time is a sentence of “a 90 day period of incarceration.”
A split sentence is a sentence that combines jail time and probation. Probation is a sentence that allows a defendant to stay out of jail, provided that he or she stays under court supervision and follows the terms of his or her court orders of rules and conditions. Agencies are designated specifically to supervise individuals on probation, parole, or post-release supervision. A probation or parole violation could result in a probation or parole violation. Such violations could result in the individual serving the remaining period of imposed probation or parole in jail.
In New York, these agencies are the New York State Office of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, the New York City Department of Probation, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and the New York State Division of Parole.
An example of a split sentence is a sentence of “four months of incarceration and three years of probation.”
Felony conviction: Other than certain convictions such as for a sexual assault or a class “A-II” felony (one of the highest, most serious classes of felonies in New York), the maximum period of probation for a felony conviction in New York is between three and five years.
Misdemeanor conviction: The maximum period of probation for a Class “A” misdemeanor conviction in New York is between two and three years. The maximum period of probation for a Class “B” misdemeanor conviction is generally one year.
An intermittent sentence is a less common form of sentencing, where an individual is only incarcerated a few days out of the week, like the weekends, and released for the remainder of the time. This gives an individual the opportunity to, for example, keep their job or continue going to school and still serve their sentence over an extended period.
An example of an intermittent sentence is “a sentence of weekends in jail for a period of nine months.”
A determinate sentence is specific to certain felony convictions, and not misdemeanors. It is a specific, set period of prison time that is generally more than one year, plus a mandatory period of post release supervision, or parole.
An example of a determinate sentence is “five years of incarceration and five years of post release supervision.”
An indeterminate sentence is also specific to certain felonies, and is not imposed for misdemeanors. It is a sentence with a minimum period of time the individual must serve incarcerated and a maximum period of time the individual may be incarcerated. The Parole Board decides the specific period of time the individual actually serves while the individual is serving his or her sentence. If the individual is released before serving the maximum period of incarceration, the individual will be supervised by Parole for the remainder of the time.
An example of an indeterminate sentence is a sentence of “five to seven years incarceration,” or “16 years incarceration to life.”
A sentence of time served means that the amount of time the individual already spent incarcerated fulfilled their sentence. Usually, this sentence is imposed when the individual spent a period of time incarcerated due to not making bail and the judge or prosecutor considers them to have already paid their “debt” for their crime. When a “time served” sentence is imposed, the individual is released, given credit for the time already spent incarcerated.
*Remember that there are multitudes of sentencing options that do not include prison or jail time, which are discussed here.