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7-1 Discussion: Judicial Discretion Should Be Allowed or Judges Should Always Follow
Sentencing Guidelines
What are strengths and weaknesses associated with this issue?
What do you believe to be most important in the matter of justice: complete judicial discretion or
required oversight by the sentencing guidelines?
Required oversight by sentencing guidelines. Complete judicial discretion does not
automatically ensure justice will be served. Judicial discretion has the power to be abused, which
can result in a gross injustice when it comes to sentencing.
Sentencing Guidelines
“As of 2011, 21 states and the U.S. Federal Government used some form of sentencing
“Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, a growing body of social scientific research evidence
indicated that offenders with similar backgrounds and convicted of similar crimes often received
different punishments.”
“Research on punishment practices in the 1960s and 1970s illustrated that there were disparities
in both the length of time sentenced to prison and the length of time kept in prison that varied by
social and demographic characteristics of offenders, even after accounting for the types of crimes
committed and the nature of the prior record.”
“The U.S. sentencing guidelines were developed in the 1980s and were primarily an
attempt to make criminal sentences in the federal courts more systematic.”
“Many states also require judges to denote a minimum and maximum sentence length.
Again, the selected length of sentence, regardless of whether it is the minimum or the
maximum sentence, needs to come from the recommended range in the guidelines grid. It is
common for many judges to set the minimum and the maximum sentence to the same
Determinate Sentencing- A jail or prison sentence that has a definite length and can’t be
reviewed or changed by a parole board or anything agency.
Indeterminate Sentencing- A type of custodial sentence that consists of a range of years and
not a fixed time, which means the convicted person’s release date is open.
Hello everyone,
In my opinion, required oversight by the sentencing guidelines is the most important aspect in
the matter of justice. Complete judicial discretion does not automatically ensure justice will be
served. Judicial discretion has the ability to be abused, which can result in a gross injustice when
it comes to sentencing. Presently, 33 states generally follow an indeterminate sentencing
strategy. Indeterminate sentencing is a form of sentencing that indicates a minimum and
maximum for each offense or category of offenses. (p. 312) The judge then orders a minimum
and maximum or the maximum sentence only. From there, the parole board will determine when
the offender will be released from prison. While sentencing guidelines do allow judges to apply a
level of discretion in sentencing by referencing their states sentencing grid, most jurisdictions
permit judges to deviate from the guidelines; however, if they choose to do so, they are required
to justify in writing why they did not. When a judge decides to go this route, there are typically
detailed bothersome or extenuating circumstances, and some states also list elements that should
not be utilized to escalate or reduce the probable sentence. “For example, the Minnesota
guidelines state that the offender’s race, gender, and employment status are not legitimate
grounds for departure.” (Hemmens, et al., 2019).
Most importantly, the application of sentencing guidelines inhibits objectionable sentencing
inequalities that develop when inappropriate elements can manipulate a criminal sentencing
ruling, including bias from a presiding judge, hence the importance of using said guidelines.
Regarding the intent of sentencing guidelines, three prevalent rationalizations “are given for the
development and implementation of sentencing guidelines: (1) public safety, (2) equitable
sentencing decisions, and (3) management of the prison population.” As most things do, there are
weaknesses associated with the application of sentencing guidelines. First being, the usage of
sentencing guidelines to regulate prison populations has been ineffective. Secondly, “little
evidence allows experts to assess the impact of sentencing guidelines on all three primary
purposes for sentencing guidelines. Perhaps the most difficult assessments concern the impact of
sentencing guidelines on public safety.” (Barton-Bellessa, 2012). All in all, when the pros and
cons of sentencing guidelines are weighed, I still agree that judges should always follow
sentencing guidelines to not only hold them accountable for their sentencing decisions, but as an
extra measure to protect offenders from being sentenced more or less harshly by a judge handing
down a sentence based off their own biases.
Barton-Bellessa, S. M. (Ed.) (2012). . SAGE Publications, Inc.,
Project Two
Hemmens, C., Brody, D. C., & Spohn, C. (2019). Criminal Courts: A Contemporary Perspective, 4e.
Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Mason, J. (Practitioner). (2015). Criminal and Civil Cases [Video]. SAGE Knowledge.
Barton-Bellessa, S. M. (Ed.) (2012). . SAGE Publications, Inc.,
Sample, B. (2018, March 12).ISentencing Examples: How Disparity Affects Sentencing
Practices. Sentencing.net; Brandon Sample - Attorney at Law.
An example of this alternative is in the case of Gall v. United States. The presentence
documentation suggested a 30-37 month sentence for Gall; however, the District Court
sentenced him to 3 years probation. The presiding judge in this case stated that
incarceration was not necessary “due to his voluntary withdrawal from the drug
enterprise, his law-abiding post-offense conduct, and the fact that he was not a danger to
society.” (Sample, 2018).
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