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The Michael Jackson Trial

If convicted, Jackson's sentence could vary widely

Michael Jackson
Crime, Law and Justice

SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) -- If Michael Jackson is convicted on any of the felony charges he faces, his punishment could vary widely, depending on how many guilty counts the jury returns and how the judge structures his sentence.

If the jury finds Jackson guilty of the most severe charge against him, child molestation -- and agrees with the prosecution that he had "substantial sexual contact" with his teenage accuser -- he would go to prison.

That's because under California state law Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville would be prohibited from sentencing Jackson to probation.

Jackson also would be required to register as a sex offender.

Since his arrest in November 2003, Jackson has been free on $3 million bail.

If he is convicted on any of the felony counts, Melville could order him taken into custody immediately if he believes Jackson could be a danger to the community or a flight risk.

The judge does have the option of letting Jackson remain free on bail pending appeal.

Under California's procedures for calculating sentences, a conviction on all 10 counts against Jackson could result in a sentence of 18 years and eight months in prison.

If the judge chose to sentence him concurrently on some of the charges, or found mitigating circumstances, his sentence could be substantially shorter -- perhaps as little as three years -- if all of the counts were served concurrently.

Jackson would have to serve 85 percent of his time before being eligible for parole.

If the sentence were 18 years, eight months, for example, the minimum amount of time to serve would be about 15 years, 10 months; for a three-year sentence, the minimum would be about two and a half years.

When a defendant is convicted of multiple felonies in California, the court usually imposes the longest sentence in any of the counts, plus one-third of the presumptive sentences of the rest.

So while the presumptive sentences on all 10 charges against Jackson add up to 38 years, he would not face a sentence anywhere near that stiff.

Jackson was indicted in April 2004 on 10 counts stemming from incidents prosecutors say occurred in February and March 2003.

The singer pleaded not guilty to the charges and did not testify during the trial.

The charges against Jackson and potential penalties he could face include:

  • Four counts of committing a lewd act on a child. Each of these carries a presumptive sentence of six years in prison. If the judge finds mitigating circumstances, he can reduce the sentence to three years. If he finds aggravating circumstances, he can boost it up to eight years.
  • One count of conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. The penalty for this charge will depend upon which of the three alleged crimes, if any, the jury finds were part of the conspiracy. If the jury finds him guilty of conspiracy to commit child abduction or extortion, the presumptive sentence would be three years, which could be reduced to two years or increased to four. But if the jury finds the conspiracy involved only false imprisonment, the sentence would be one year.
  • One count of attempting to commit a lewd act on a child. This charge has a presumptive sentence of three years but could be reduced to 18 months or increased to four years.
  • Four counts of administering alcohol to enable child molestation. These charges include the lesser offense of furnishing alcohol to a minor.
  • Jackson would face a presumptive sentence of two years on each administering alcohol felony count, which could be reduced to 16 months or increased to three years.

    Jackson may not face any additional time on these counts if he can convince Melville the alcohol charges are part of the circumstances of the lewd conduct.

    Jurors also were given the option of finding Jackson guilty on the lesser charge of providing alcohol to a minor, a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to six months in the county jail.

    If convicted, one factor that could work in Jackson's favor is the fact that he has no prior criminal record. Another mitigating circumstance is whether a defendant's role in the crime was seen as minor.

    Aggravating circumstances that might work against Jackson include taking advantage of a position of trust or confidence; inducing a minor to assist in the commission of an offense; inducing others to participate in the crime and assuming a position of leadership; having a particularly vulnerable victim; and being convicted of multiple offenses.

    State law calls for a sentencing hearing to be held within 20 court days, or roughly four calendar weeks. Such hearings are typically delayed to give the defense more time to prepare.

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