Judicial discretion should be allowed for judges, as they are still required to consider sentencing guidelines and other factors such as a defendant’s criminal history and the level of the criminal offense committed. Judges are also required to submit a written explanation of the factors weighed and used to come to their decision, ensuring accountability.
“In 1984, Congress enacted the Federal Sentencing Guidelines as part of the Sentencing Reform Act. Prior to the enactment of the Guidelines, Federal judges had a tremendous amount of discretion in sentencing a defendant.” (Mahoney, 2012). The Federal Sentencing Guidelines forced judges to abide by sentencing guidelines and completely restricted their discretion in deciding sentences. ” In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court responded in United States v. Booker. In Booker, the Court re-established judicial discretion, holding that while Federal judges must consider the Guideline ranges for sentencing, they are free to tailor individual sentences based on additional statutory concerns and fairness. Now, a Federal judge may impose a sentence outside the Guideline range, provided that the judge provides a written explanation of the factors he weighed in reaching his decision.” (Mahoney, 2012).
The ultimate reason for me being in favor of a judge’s discretion is the severity of crimes committed. If judges were forced to follow mandatory sentencing guidelines, everyone who is charged with the same crime would encounter the same consequences. This does now allow for a fair legal system, as the severity of crimes, a defendant’s criminal history, circumstances, and the charges given to certain defendants can differ widely. As an example, a defendant with no prior criminal history could be charged with possession of a criminal substance in the seventh degree for possessing marijuana for recreational use; while a defendant with a long criminal history full of drug offenses could be charged with the same thing for possessing heroin. Should both of these defendants receive the same sentence or punishment? I do not believe so. A defendant’s criminal history, the severity of the crime, and circumstantial evidence should be taken into account when a judge decides a sentence, as the judge is also forced to take into account sentencing guidelines and remain accountable through an explanation of their decision. Also, in the event of this example, allowing judges to use discretion could allow the defendant with a long criminal history of drug offenses caught with heroin the opportunity to be offered rehabilitation (such a substance abuse treatment or drug court), instead of jail.
On the contrary, I will admit that I could foresee certain issues arising from judges being given discretion such as racial profiling. To provide an example of racial profiling and bias being implemented into a judge’s discretionary decision, a judge could impose a much higher sentence on an African American than a white man for the same crime. However, as mentioned earlier, there are methods of accountability put into place to avoid such issues as racial profiling, such as judges being forced to provide a written explanation for their discretion beyond sentencing guidelines. These methods of accountability can help to avoid discretionary decisions based on personal biases and ensure fair sentencing for all defendants.
Mahoney, K. (2012, 29 April). “Must a Judge Impose the Sentence Required by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?“ Relentless Defense. Retrieved from:
Kronman, A. T. (1986). “The Problem of Judicial Discretion.” Faculty Scholarship Series 1063, p. 486. Retrieved from:
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