Criminal Law – Criminal Convictions and Sentencing
A criminal conviction is when a court of law finds a defendant guilty of a crime and comes to a verdict. The opposite of a conviction is something called an acquittal. In the criminal justice system, there are flaws and sometimes guilty people are actually acquitted and innocent people are convicted. This is way appeals are put in place to avoid and mitigate this problem, if and when it arises. A mistake in the criminal justice system which results in a conviction of an innocent person is known as a miscarriage of justice.
After the defendant is convicted, the court that he or she is tried in, will decide the suitable sentence in the form of a punishment. However, convictions can lead to ramifications outside of the sentence given, which is called collateral consequences of criminal charges. Such convictions can be called minor convictions, which are in effect, is a warning conviction and does not really affect the defendant. A person with a number of convictions in their past will have more collateral consequences of the criminal charges, and a history of convictions are call antecedents or ‘previous’ convictions. Despite minor convictions not affecting the defendant too much, they still show on a person’s record as a previous conviction.
A defendant is sentenced by a judge after he or she has either pleaded guilty to a criminal offence or been found guilty of a criminal offence following trial in the courts. A judge or magistrate will make the decision as to the suitable sentence for the defendant’s offence that they committed, by taking into account different important factors, including the facts of the case, the maximum penalty and any sentencing guidelines punished. The law relating to the criminal justice system is largely found in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 has aimed to provide understandable and more variable sentencing guidelines. It has included the purposes of sentencing; the principles behind sentencing, for example, the reduction in sentence for a guilty plea, the principles relating to previous convictions and offences committed whilst on bail, and statutory aggravating factors; terms relating to different types of sentence and when they may be applied; terms relating to the sentencing of dangerous offenders; and provisions in relation to release of offenders.
The 2003 Act also sets out the maximum sentences for specific offences, setting out the most severe penalty a court can grant and the maximum sentences depending on the seriousness of the offence. For offences such as murder, robbery and some sexual offences, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. These maximum penalties are meant to be applied to the most serious and extreme criminal cases and it is the judge or magistrates duty to decide the suitable sentence for the offence that the defendant has committed.