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Criminal law sentencing — Legal glossary

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

Definition of criminal law sentencing, or penal statute with related terms and research resources for legal professionals

Legal termscriminal lawcriminal law sentencing (penal statute)


Sentencing in criminal law refers to the process of determining the appropriate punishment or penalty for a convicted defendant. Also termed penal law, punitive statute, or criminal statute, Black’s Law Dictionary — “a penal statute is a statute by which punishments are imposed for transgression of the law, civil as well as criminal.”

It involves considering various factors, such as the nature and severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

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Sentencing principles

Sentencing factors

Summary and related resources


Sentencing principles

Proportionality — The punishment should be proportionate to the seriousness of the offense and the degree of culpability of the defendant.

Rehabilitation — The goal of sentencing is not only to punish but also to rehabilitate offenders and provide them with opportunities for reform and reintegration into society.

Deterrence — Sentencing aims to deter both the convicted individual and others from committing similar crimes in the future.

Retribution— Some sentencing models emphasize retribution, seeking to impose punishment for the harm caused by the offense.

Sentencing factors

Nature and severity of the offense

Depending on the offense’s severity, restitution may be an appropriate form of punishment. Victims may be more likely to receive restitution in cases of property damage or financial crimes, such as theft, fraud, or embezzlement.

Level of responsibility

The justice system may consider the offender’s level of responsibility for crimes involving multiple people. For example, there may be less responsibility if there is evidence that the offender was not the main instigator of the crime.

Defendant’s criminal history

The defendant’s criminal history may also be considered when determining the appropriateness of restitution. If the defendant has committed the same or similar offenses in the past, then restitution may be more likely to be ordered. Similarly, if the defendant has a history of not paying fines or restitution, then a different form of punishment may be more appropriate.

Mitigating factors

Other mitigating factors may also be considered when determining the appropriateness of restitution. These may include the defendant’s age, mental health, or financial situation. If, for instance, the defendant is a minor or has a mental illness that prevents them from understanding the consequences of their actions, then restitution may not be an appropriate punishment. Another factor to consider would be the defendant’s inability to pay restitution due to a lack of financial resources.

Aggravating factors

These factors may include the severity of the offense, the amount of damage caused, or the defendant’s prior criminal history. In addition, if the defendant was particularly reckless, malicious, or violent in carrying out the crime, the court may determine that restitution is an appropriate punishment.

Victim impact statements

Victim impact statements may also be considered when deciding on the amount of restitution awarded. These provide the court with information on how the crime has affected the victim both emotionally and financially. Such statements often include details such as the amount of medical bills, lost wages, or other expenses that have resulted from the crime.

Summary and other resources 

  • Sentencing in criminal law involves determining appropriate punishment considering crime severity, defendant’s history, and mitigating/aggravating circumstances.
  • Sentencing principles include proportionality, rehabilitation, deterrence, and retribution.
  • Factors considered in sentencing include nature of offense, level of responsibility, defendant’s criminal history, mitigating factors, and aggravating factors.
  • Restitution may be ordered as punishment, especially in cases of property damage or financial crimes.
  • Victim impact statements provide information on emotional and financial effects of the crime on the victim.


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