Can You Go To Jail If You Have Cancer?

Answer: yes, you can go to jail if you have cancer.

But a cancer diagnosis might influence the ultimate decision to sentence a defendant to jail.

In the article that follows, we’ll explain.

Can You Go To Jail If You Have Cancer? (Explained)


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Introduction To Sentencing

While jail is a possibility in almost every misdemeanor and felony case, whether the defendant actually goes to jail is much more nuanced.

Offenders do not go to jail automatically for breaking the law every single time.

Instead, during sentencing process, many factors are considered, such as:

  • how bad the fight was
  • how badly anyone was hurt
  • how much property was damaged
  • whether self-defense was involved
  • whether the offender is prepared to pay for damages
  • whether this is a first offense
  • the most recent previous criminal conviction, and how many previous convictions there are
  • whether the offender is remorseful
  • whether jail will cause the offender to lose his job or place in school
  • whether the offender is prepared to enter substance abuse treatment

One of the factors that the court may consider is the health of the defendant.

The judge will make the decision as to whether jail is appropriate in the circumstances, or whether the offender would be better suited to performing community service or other service under the eye of the jail, such as trash clean up/road crew.

The parties (prosecutor and defense) may even negotiate a sentence that seems appropriate and jointly recommend it to the court for consideration.

Financial Reasons a Cancer Patient Might Avoid Jail

A cancer diagnosis is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Prisons and jails have medical facilities, and they do have the ability to treat major illness and injuries, though the quality of the care can vary.

However, from a policy and budgetary standpoint, a seriously ill prisoner is an expensive prisoner, and is therefore, not an attractive prisoner.

Treating a prisoner for a serious illness for 12 months could costs the jail tens of thousands of dollars, which is money that could otherwise be spent on employee salaries, facility upgrades, and programs.

Transporting a prisoner to off-site locations for medical procedures also represents a flight risk situation, and potentially puts other civilians at risk.

This means that the jail has to provide sufficient deputies to maintain custody over the prisoner at all times.

Prosecutors understand that jails and prisons only have so much budget, and that the budget often determines whether there is space for the next offender who needs to be incarcerated.

A cancer diagnosis might convince the prosecution to pursue a non-prison sentence, or alternative incarceration (like ankle monitoring) to avoid the financial burden of the prisoner’s care.

Justice For The Community

If a an individual is seriously ill with cancer (or other serious medical condition), the prosecution may not feel that pursing an extensive jail sentence is worth it for the community.

It costs a lot of money to prosecute someone, and that money comes from the community in the form of tax dollars.

For the overall benefit of the community, if the defendant is seriously ill, the prosecution might not pursue jail, especially if the health situation is such that no new crimes can be committed.

Compassionate Release

Some states (and the federal government) have opportunities for what is called “compassionate release.”

If something happens after the defendant has been sentenced that wasn’t foreseen and could not have been foreseen, the defendant might be able to secure an early release.

This could be a medical situation.

However, the situation needs to be pretty extraordinary and compelling.

For someone who knows they have cancer going in, and the issue of the cancer was raised during the sentencing phase, the compassionate release often might not apply to the defendant.

Will a Cancer Patient Go To Jail?

It is certainly possible that a cancer patient will be sentenced to jail.

However, the cancer diagnosis is just one piece of a much larger puzzle that also includes the crime committed, the damage caused to the victim or the community, the criminal history of the defendant, and more.

There’s no way to so for sure one way or another whether the cancer diagnosis will be relevant at sentencing.

Need Help?

If you have been charged with crimes, or you are worried that you will be, conferring with an attorney early on is recommended.

Even if you don’t think you’ll need a lawyer or be able to afford a retained lawyer in your case, early consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your state could prevent you from making your case worse and give you guidance about what to do next.

Wrap Up

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Browse our free legal library guides for more information.

Can You Go To Jail If You Have Cancer