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In law, a sentence forms the final act of a judge-ruled process, and also the symbolic principal act connected to his function. The sentence generally involves a decree of imprisonment, a fine and/or other punishments against a defendant convicted of a crime. Those imprisoned for multiple crimes, will serve either a consecutive sentence (in which the period of imprisonment equals the sum of all the sentences) or a concurrent sentence (in which the period of imprisonment equals the length of the longest sentence). If a sentence gets reduced to a less harsh (or "softer") punishment, then the sentences is said to have been "mitigated". Sometimes murder charges are "mitigated" and reduced to manslaughter charges.
The first use of this word with this meaning was in Roman law, where it indicated the opinion of a jurist on a given question, expressed in written or in oral responsa. It was also the opinion of senators (that was translated into the Senatusconsultus ). It finally was also the decision of the judging organ (both in civil and in penal trials), as well as the decision of the Arbiter (in arbitration).
In modern Latin systems the sentence is mainly the final act of any procedure in which a judge, or more generally an organ is called to express his evaluation, therefore it can be issued practically in any field of law requiring a function of evaluation of something by an organ.
Sentences are variously classified depending on:
- the legal field, or kind of action, or system it refers to:
- civil, penal, administrative, canon, ..., sentence.
- sentences of mere clearance, of condemnation, of constitution.
- the issuing organ (typically a monocratic judge or a court, or other figures that receive a legitimation by the system).
- the jurisdiction and the legal competence: single judges, courts, tribunals, appeals, supreme courts, constitutional courts, etc., meant as the various degrees of judgment and appeal.
- the content:
- partial, cautelar, interlocutory, preliminar (sententia instructoria), definitive sentences.
- sentence of absolutio (discharge) or condemnatio (briefly damnatio, also for other meanings - condemnation). The sentences of condemnation are also classified by the penalty they determine:
- sentence of reclusion,
- sentence of fee,
- sententia agendi, sentence that impose a determined action (or a series of action) as a penalty for the illegal act. This kind of sentence became better developed and remained in wider use in common law systems.
Usually the sentence comes after a process in which the deciding organ is put in condition to correctly evaluate whether the analysed conduct complies or not with the legal systems, and eventually which aspects of the conduct might regard which laws. Depending on respective systems, the phasis that precede [precedes?] the sentence may vary relevantly and the sentence can be resisted (by both parties) in front of up to a given degree of appeal. The sentence issued by the Appeal court of highest admitted degree immediately becomes the definitive sentence, as well as the sentence issued in minor degrees that is not resisted by the condemned or by the accusator (or is not resisted within a given time). The sentence usually has to be rendered of public domain (publicatio) and in most systems it has to be accompanied by the reasons for its content (a sort of story of the juridical reflections and evaluations that the judging organ used to produce it).
A sentence (even a definitive one) can be annulled in some given cases, that many systems usually pre-determine. The most frequent case is related to irregularities found ex-post in the procedure, the most éclatant is perhaps in penal cases, when a relevant (often discharging) proof is discovered after the definitive sentence.
In most systems the defnitive sentence is unique, in the precise sense that no one can be judged more than once for the same action (apart, obviously, from appeal resistance).
Sentences are in many systems a source of law, as an authoritative interpretation of the law in front of concrete cases, thus quite as an extension of the ordinary formal documental system.
The sentence is generally issued by the judge in the name of (or on the behalf of) the superior authority of the State.
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