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What is alternative sentencing?

Criminal convictions may result in penalties other than incarceration. Those convicted of criminal charges in Pennsylvania and throughout the country may receive alternative sentences, such as a suspended sentence, probation, fines, restitution, community service or pretrial diversion. Judges have discretion whether to impose an alternative sentence based on the circumstances of the crime and the defendant's age, criminal history and degree of remorse.

Suspended sentences are typically given to first-time offenders or those convicted of less serious crimes. The alternative sentence may be conditioned upon the defendant's fulfillment of certain requirements, such as attending a substance abuse program and refraining from committing any crimes. Failure to complete such requirements may result in the imposition of a sentence.

First-time or low-risk offenders may receive probation, which allows defendants to return to the community with restrictions, such as not traveling out of state, refraining from drug and alcohol use, submitting to drug and alcohol testing, meeting with their probation officer and appearing at scheduled court appearances.

Defendants may also be required to make a payment in the form of a fine or restitution. Fines help the state to compensate for the offense, with the money going to the court or municipality, whereas restitution is paid to the victims in the case.

Court ordered community service may be imposed on defendants, often in conjunction with another form of alternative sentencing. Judges will typically order defendants to perform community service in exchange for a reduction in jail time or fines.

Finally, defendants may be assigned to drug diversion programs which they must complete to have their charges dismissed. Defendants facing criminal charges should seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advise them of whether they may be eligible for alternative sentencing.

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