Law Office of David P. Shapiro - San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney




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You might wonder why people sometimes get different punishments for committing the same crime.  Seems unfair on its face, right?  Well, not necessarily when you dig a little deeper.

Typically, there are three factors that influence a person’s sentence: (1) the nature of the crime, (2) any sentencing guidelines and or statutory presumptions relating to the appropriate sentence, and (3) the person’s criminal history, or lack thereof. However, the court and prosecutors sometimes look at other factors like age, mental impairments, socioeconomic status, education, and more. Thus, it is essential your criminal defense law firm do the same to ensure their clients receive the best outcome possible.

Here’s an example. There are two women. Both have 5-month-old babies.  The first woman, let’s call her Jill, is 18 years old and did not complete high school. She is a single mother and works as a clerk at 7-11. The second woman, let’s call her Beth, is a 40-year-old high school teacher. Beth graduated from college and is married. Neither woman has a criminal history. Now, let’s say both women leave their 5-month-old baby in the car unattended during a hot summer day in San Diego. Jill leaves her baby in the car while she goes and interviews for a new job that pays her more than her job at 7-11. Beth leaves her baby in the car while she shops at Bloomingdale’s. Tragically, in both these hypotheticals, the baby dies after being left in the heat for a few hours. Both women are arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. Neither have a prior criminal record. So, should they receive the same punishment? You might still be inclined to say “yes,” because it is the same crime, and they both lack a prior criminal history.  However, when we look at other factors that the court and prosecutors often consider, we discover that these two women may not be given the same punishment, because it could be argued their culpability is different, based on the factors below.

Age: Jill is 18, while Beth is 40. A prosecutor will likely argue that because Beth is older, she should have known better and thus Beth is more “culpable” than Jill. Additionally, at 18 years old, Jill’s brain is not fully developed (most studies conclude the brain is not fully developed until age 25), whereas Beth’s brain is likely fully developed.

Socio-economic status: We often think if someone is better off they can afford better representation and get a better outcome. Even if true, how does one’s socioeconomic status affect a person’s culpability? Here, a prosecutor may argue that because Beth had the means to afford someone to look after her baby while she shopped, she is more culpable, whereas Jill likely could not afford childcare.  Again, Beth is likely to be seen as more culpable.

Education: Beth is, presumably, much more knowledgeable than Jill and has more life experience. Again, a prosecutor will argue that Beth is more culpable because she should have known better.

Marital Status: It is generally the case that a person that is older and married is better equipped in raising a baby over someone that is a teenager and without a partner. This factor also illustrates that Beth is more culpable.

There could be other factors not mentioned in this hypothetical, but the point is that Jill is less culpable than Beth by analyzing a few factors outside the typical categories most people think of during a person’s sentencing. Upon evaluating these other factors, Jill is unlikely to receive the same punishment/sentence as Beth, despite them both committing the same crime.

Learn more about why people may get different sentences for committing the same crimes by watching this video from attorney Stefano Molea here.


If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges and wants to learn more about your options moving forward, give us a call at (619) 295-3555 to set up your case evaluation today.


The contents of this article and blog are meant for informational and marketing purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Viewing and/or use of the blog does not form an attorney-client relationship. No statements in this post are a guarantee, warranty, or prediction of a particular result in your case.