The one thing that is consistent about US prison sentences is their inconsistency. Each state sets its own rules to use for each criminal offense. The more serious crimes, called felonies, are typically given longer sentences, while less serious crimes, called misdemeanors have shorter sentences.
Taking a life --
A premeditated murder can result in a life sentence in most states. Life typically means the inmate must spend a minimum number of years in prison before being allowed to request parole, but granting parole is not promised, and the inmate could feasibly spend his or her natural life incarcerated. A 15-years-to-life sentence is an example of such a sentence.
Many states also have a death penalty for murders that are particularly horrific or involve a specific set of criteria. If the murder was not premeditated the sentences are usually shorter, such as 10-20 years for manslaughter.
Check out: What is a suspended sentence?
Robbery sentences also vary by state, and to further complicate things, whether or not a gun was used during the crime comes into play. For instance, a robbery in Tennessee that does not involve a gun is a Class C felony and carries a sentence of 3-6 years. If a gun is used, the Class bumps to a B and sentencing can be 8-12 years.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
-- States vary widely in punishment for a DUI
conviction. Most states have large financial consequences. Lots of states have mandatory jail time, but it varies in length depending on the state and whether this is the first, second, or third DUI. Some states have designed unusual punishments such as having to pick trash up for eight hours while wearing a vest that reads: DUI.
-- Most states have some form of registration for those convicted of sexual crimes. Not only does the convicted person do time in jail or prison, but he must also register with local authorities and be placed on a public website. How long the person stays on the registration depends many times on the level of crime. For example, in Nevada, an indecent exposure conviction means registering with the state, but it is not put on the publicly accessible site. A rape conviction, however, means a lifetime registration that is accessible on a public site. Prison sentences can range from no time to life without parole.
Video: Longest prison sentences every handed out.
Most states have enhanced sentences for those who are repeat offenders. A good defense attorney is critical to getting a shorter sent.