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Alternative sentences to jail that judges may order

Judges in New Jersey may select from a number of alternative sentences when they feel that it would not be appropriate to send the defendant before them to jail. Sometimes a judge will eschew a custodial sentence because the crime involved is minor, and sometimes judges take the defendant's character and remorse into account. Judges may also order a combination of non-custodial sentences such as ordering both probation be served and a fine paid.

Two of the most common non-custodial criminal penalties are probation and a suspended sentence. These sanctions are often handed down to those accused of committing minor offenses or to individuals who have not previously been in trouble with the law. Probation and suspended sentences often come with strict stipulations attached, and defendants can expect little sympathy from judges when these conditions are violated. Terms of probation or a suspended sentence may include the defendant's participation in a drug or alcohol treatment program or a requirement that they stay out of trouble in the future.

Ordering a defendant to perform community service can both serve the public and teach certain types of offenders about the consequences of their actions. For example, a defendant found guilty of vandalism could develop more respect for personal property after being ordered to remove graffiti. Fines and restitution are two financial alternatives to jail. Fines are punitive and are paid to a governmental body, but restitution is paid to crime victims. Restitution is often ordered to compensate crime victims for their medical bills or property damage.

Criminal defense attorneys will sometimes attempt to obtain an alternative sentence recommendation during plea agreement negotiations. While judges may not be required to honor these agreements, they could have good reasons to accept a negotiated plea. Both prosecutors and judges work under heavy caseloads, and they may welcome the opportunity to avoid a trial when the case before them is not serious.

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