Sentences vary according to the severity of the crime. Felony sentences are the most severe; misdemeanor sentences are less so, and punishments for infractions are the least serious. Here are some types of punishment:
- Probation. Probation allows the defendant to avoid spending time in jail or prison, though it may be granted after an initial, short time in jail. An out-of-custody probationer must meet the terms and conditions of his release, which typically include remaining arrest-free, paying restitution to the victim, attending counseling, avoiding certain people or groups of people (victims, gang members), and maintaining employment.
- Fines. A criminal fine can be imposed for infractions (minor traffic violations), most misdemeanors, and felonies. The size of the fine can range from less than $100 to many thousands of dollars. Fines are not the same as restitution; the money goes to the government as a way to partially offset the cost of prosecuting the defendant.
- Forfeiture. For some crimes, the judge may order the defendant to forfeit, or give up, property that was involved with or used in conjunction with the crime. For example, a judge may order the defendant to forfeit a car that was used to transport illegal drugs.
- Jail time. Jails are maintained by the local government and are intended for those awaiting trial, misdemeanants, and certain felons who have received probation plus jail time. In most states, a jail sentence is less than one year.
- Prison time. Prisons are run by the state, and house people convicted of felonies. Sentences range from slightly over a year to life in prison without parole.
- Death. In extremely serious cases that have been tried as “death penalty cases,” the jury may return a verdict of death. These inmates are housed in special units of the state prison.