How is the Punishment for a Given Offense Determined?

The DC legislator writes into the laws what the maximum sentence a person can face for a given offense. For a misdemeanor assault charge, for example, they determined that the most jail time a person can legally get is one hundred and eighty days. For more serious felony charges, each one will have a maximum penalty that a person could face. For example, if you are found guilty of possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute it, a judge cannot legally give you more than 30 years in jail.

But, the actual punishment that a person gets is decided by the judge after hearing recommendations from both the prosecutor and the defense attorney. The judges have limitations for each law, but within those limitations the judge is the person who ultimately decides what the punishment would be.

In any case, misdemeanor or felony, the judge would consider any plea agreements that may have been reached between the prosecutor and defendant, as well as any additional arguments from either side.  A defense attorney can argue for leniency based on his client’s job situation, enrollment in drug or alcohol counseling, or any other favorable factors.  In a felony case, punishment is based in part on sentencing guidelines that establish sentencing ranges.  Judges tend to follow these guidelines, although they are not required to do so.