Time served is the amount of time someone spends in jail awaiting trial, during the trial, or awaiting sentencing. People who are being held in these circumstances are said to be held on remand. In some cases, once someone is determined to be guilty, a judge may offer credit for how much time he or she spent in jail before the sentencing. Such credits are commonly offered in misdemeanor cases or in cases where the convicted person has behaved well while being held on remand.
In some situations, a judge will sentence a guilty party only to time served. In areas with sentencing guidelines, it is sometimes possible that the guideline corresponds with the amount of time the person spent being held on remand. In these situations, the convicted person goes free after the sentencing hearing. In other instances, the credit for time spent in remand is used to reduce prison time. For example, someone might be sentenced to two years in prison with a six-month credit for the time he or she already served, which would result in an 18-month prison stay.
Regional laws about giving credit for this time vary. Some countries allow time spent on remand to be counted differently from time in prison. People may be given double credit for this time, for instance, with three months in jail awaiting trial being considered equivalent to six months of time served. Being given a credit may not always be an option, depending on the nature of the crime and the regional laws.
People who are held on remand can spend a long time in jail as their cases are brought to trial and heard in court, and can spend additional time waiting for a sentence if convicted. The legal system recognizes this as a hardship for the prisoner. Credit for this time provides a mechanism for compensating people for the time they have already spent in jail. If the credit does not cancel out the sentence, the convict will be transferred to a prison facility to serve out the remainder of the sentence.
The amount of leeway a judge has in sentencing varies, and in some places, very strict sentencing guidelines limit the judge's options. Once a jury has arrived at a verdict, the judge must follow the standards set out by law. In other regions, judges are allowed more discretion. This is designed to promote fairness in the legal system by allowing judges to consider the circumstances of a case before they pass sentence. Allowing judges to give credit for time served is one of the mechanisms for providing sentencing flexibility.