Lula Weliyo


            In law, a criminal sentence is a form of punishment ordered by a court of law. According to Wikipedia, “The first use of this word {Sentencing} with this meaning was in Roman law, where it indicated the opinion of a juriston a given question, expressed in written or in oral responsa.”It is used as a form of legal consequences stemming from a conviction of a crime. These consequences include, but are not limited to imprisonment, fine, or other forms of punishment.[1]A judge or prosecutor is given the power to either reduce or maximize a sentence based on many different factors such as the laws a state has about sentencing and individual circumstances. Criminal Law Theorists believe that a sentence serves two purpose. The purpose of deterring future crimes and the purpose of retribution.[2]Law is important in our society because it sets boundaries and makes a clear statement about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, and to further prevent those unacceptable behavior, punishments, such as sentencing, are put in place.  


In colonial times, individuals relied on each other to make positive contributions in their community. Any individual who wasn’t isn’t making any contributions was considered to be in violation of the law. However, colonial laws conflicted with human behaviour, and individuals with bad or socially unacceptable behavior such as lying, flirting, drunkenness, heresay or even being out of work[3]were in violation of colonial law resulting in fines and warnings. Individuals who received punishment were sentenced in terms of physical punishment including public hangings, whippings, standing, or intentional damage to their body. Such severe punishments occured due to the fact that facilities to house convicted individuals were not common until the end of the eighteenth century.[4]

 Sentences were used as a way to reduce crime rates, prevent repeat offenders, and help individuals who are convicted of crimes realize their wrong doings and rehabilitate to perform well in society.


            As mentioned earlier, colonial sentences includes physical and fatal punishments due to the lack of facilities, sentencing in the form of years was not as common. In the 21st century, the 

most common sentences are probation, imprisonment, fines, and conditional or absolute discharge.[5]The highest form of sentencing is the death penalty, with absolute discharge being the lowest level of sentencing in contrast. Probation is the suspension of jail time which allows the release of the individual convicted back into the community on a strict set of protocols the individual must follow in order to continue avoiding a jail sentence. Imprisonment refers to when a person is put behind bars for a period of time. Absolute discharge is when the individual is guilty but no convictions or conditions to follow are given. The individual is free of charge, while Conditional discharge, the individual has conditions they must follow upon being discharged. 


            The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”.[6]  This amendment prohibits the federal government from imposing harsh consequences towards criminal defendants but however, what exactly is a “cruel and unusual” punishment and how are they measured? The history of the 8th amendment began in England in the 1600’s when a man named Titus Oates was sentenced to indefinite imprisonment for committing perjury against a number of people. A few years later it was decided that the punishment inflicted on Titus Oates was cruel and inhuman. According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, cruel and unusual punishment is referred to punishment such as torture, degrading punishment, or punishment that is extremely severe for the crime that was committed.These excessive forms of punishment are prohibited by the 8th amendment in the United States. It protects individuals from unfair and excessive punishment.


            A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant. The defendant must agree to the bargain in order to get concessions from a prosecutor. Plea bargains benefit the prosecutor and the judges in terms of resources and time, and in some cases the individuals benefit from plea bargains as well in terms of a reduced sentence.  In order for a plea bargain to take place, a defendant must voluntarily waive three rights that are protected by the Fifthand Sixth Amendments: the right to a jury trial, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to confront witnesses.[7]


            The impact of sentencing is infinite due to the many disparities in the legal system and within the interconnected individuals who operate the legal system. It is still used in the court of law as a form of punishment and rehabilitation in the 21st century. The purpose of sentencing is retribution and to rehabilitate in hopes that individuals will deter from future crimes and to learn the acceptable and unacceptable forms of control in society.