A determinate sentence is a jail or prison sentence that has a definite length and can’t be reviewed or changed by a parole board or any other agency. The judge has little discretion in sentencing and must follow the sentence guidelines determined by the law. Whereas with an indeterminate sentence, a defendant is sentenced to a range of years, but the parole board has discretion in deciding when the defendant has served their time. For example, a person can be sentenced to one to five years, but the parole board is able to review the sentence and determine when the person can be released.
Determinate sentences are only recognized in a few states, while most states rely on indeterminate sentences.
[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]