Judicial discretion refers to the authority that judges have for making and interpreting certain laws. Within the United States, judicial discretion is one of the fundamental tenants of the system of law, and is guaranteed in the United States Constitution. Both state and federal judges can exercise judicial discretion, although their discretion is not unlimited. This study focuses on a series of legal, extralegal, and systemic variables presumed to affect the workings of criminal-justice systems. These variables are employed first to analyze the decision of the court to refer defendants for presentence investigation when such a referral is not mandatory, then to examine how these referrals, once made, influence disposition. The relationship of legal representation to disposition is also explored. The findings contradict conventional wisdom regarding the advantages to defendants of legal representation and of presentence reports. Lawyers do not appear to influence either referral or sentencing. The presentence reports are requested by judges seeking to individualize their sentencing decisions, but this process of individualization is as likely to result in harsher sentences as in greater leniency.
Judicial discretion plays a major role in today’s society as far as the sentencing process. Without judicial discretion the court system would not be together as well as it is today. The essence of monocracy, the rule of law, is limitation of the discretion of officials, and providing a process by which errors or abuse of discretion can be corrected. Some discretion is unavoidable, because law cannot anticipate every eventuality or how to decide which law may apply to a given situation. What guidance the law cannot provide is supposed to be provided by standard principles of justice and due process, reason, and the facts of each case. Ideally, officials should be mutually consistent and interchangeable, making similar decisions in similar cases,...
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