Judges in California frequently find themselves facing defendants who have no prior record of violence or criminal behavior or who are charged with minor infractions. Sending such people to jail may seem excessive and unnecessary, and incarcerating non-violent offenders places additional burdens on the correctional system and costs taxpayers money. As a result, judges may choose from a number of non-custodial sentences when they feel that jail time is inappropriate.
Defendants sometimes face a number of noncustodial sentences. Drunk drivers may be placed on probation, pay a fine and be required to attend alcohol counseling sessions. A judge may impose a custodial sentence but order that it be suspended. However, defendants will usually be required to adhere to strict conditions.
Judges sometimes hand down a sentence designed to drive home to defendants how their actions have impacted the lives of others. They may order defendants to make restitution by performing services like repairing vandalized property. Defendants may also be ordered to pay financial restitution to crime victims. Some judges view a community service sentence as a way to promote the public welfare while easing the burden on overcrowded prisons, and they may also believe that sending non-violent offenders to jail could do more harm than good.
Judges will often hand down a non-custodial sentence after a defendant enters a negotiated plea. A criminal defense attorney may convince a prosecutor that their client should not go to jail by pointing out mitigating factors such as their genuine remorse and previous record of good behavior. Prosecutors and judges may welcome plea agreements as they keep the criminal justice system moving and allow them to move on to more serious cases.