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Judge John E. Turner (Ret.)

Alternatives to jail time

People in Washington who are convicted of an offense may not necessarily have to go to jail. There are a number of alternative sentences that they might receive instead. For example, a person might get a suspended sentence. The suspended sentence may or may not have a condition, such as requiring the completion of a substance abuse program. Probation is similar to a suspended sentence but usually places restrictions on a person's freedom.

A person might be required to pay something either as a fine or restitution. The former is paid to the state while restitution is paid to the victim of the offense. For example, a person who vandalizes a building might be required to pay restitution to the owner of that building. Another alternative to a sentence or to paying fines is community service.

Time in jail or prison might also be deferred by a process known as deferred adjudication or pretrial diversion. Charges may be dismissed against a person who demonstrates the ability to avoid certain behaviors. Usually, the requirements include probation or counseling in some form. Like the other alternative sentences, this tends to be offered to first-time offenders or to people who have committed minor offenses.

A person who is in need of criminal defense may want to talk to an attorney about some of these alternatives. Incarceration can seriously disrupt a person's life and may lead to additional complications, such as job loss. A person might also want to enter a plea of not guilty and go to trial. There may be a number of ways to raise doubts about evidence. For example, eyewitness accounts may be unreliable. An attorney might also look into whether a person's rights were violated during the investigation or when taken into custody.

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