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What to Know About Judicial Discretion

Judicial Discretion

Under the United States Constitution, a criminal judge has the authority to execute judicial discretion over cases. The Constitution bestows many rights and responsibilities upon criminal judges. By allowing a judge to exercise judicial discretion, the Government is trusting an individual to use their knowledge, intellect, and experience to select proper courses of action and acceptable punishments for convicted criminals. Judicial discretion allows a criminal judge to analyze all aspects and factors related to a specific case in order to determine what type of sentence is warranted and what type of punishment will be most effective.

The Constitution forbids a judge from issuing a sentence that is considered to be exceptionally cruel or unusual. Though judicial discretion allows a judge to fit a sentence to each specific criminal, which may be beneficial, there is a great deal of debate about the use of discretion. Many would argue it is unfair that individuals who are responsible for committing the same crime are treated differently under the law.

Murder is murder no matter who the offender is, and many people argue that individuals who are responsible for taking the life of another person should all be treated the same. However, this is not the case. Some murderers receive the death penalty, some receive life sentences, and others receive life with and without possibility of parole. Likewise, some individuals who are responsible for multiple homicides are handed consecutive life sentences while others are given concurrent life sentences.

There are no strict guidelines that outline the use of these penalties and there are no set rules that govern what murderers will receive life without parole and which ones will receive concurrent life sentences. It is all based on judicial discretion and judge leniency. In recent years, sentencing guidelines have been adopted and minimum sentencing laws have been instituted that put a limit on the amount of discretion that a judge can use when determining a reasonable sentence. In many ways this is beneficial because it helps to stop the use of extremely harsh and severe punishments.

However, it often is detrimental because minimum sentencing laws do not provide a criminal judge with the ability to modify sentences to fit the offender. Therefore, an offender may receive a much more severe punishment than is necessary for their case

NEXT: A Brief Overview to the Penal Code

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