How does judicial discretion affect the models of determinate and indeterminate sentencing?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Laws governing sentencing in the United States usually use one of two sentencing models—indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate sentencing gives a sentence range for a crime—for example, one to five years. Determinate sentencing, on the other hand, gives an exact sentence length—for example, three years.

Most states in the United States...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Laws governing sentencing in the United States usually use one of two sentencing models—indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate sentencing gives a sentence range for a crime—for example, one to five years. Determinate sentencing, on the other hand, gives an exact sentence length—for example, three years.

Most states in the United States use indeterminate sentencing, which can provide judges with additional discretion. That is, in court systems in which judges determine sentence length, indeterminate sentencing laws provide judges with a lot of latitude. This is because under indeterminate sentencing laws, judges can choose to sentence guilty defendants to any term length within the range provided by the law. So, in the example above (where the sentence range is from one to five years) judges can sentence guilty defendants to any sentence within one to five years, such as one year and four months, three years, or five years. This means that defendants that are found guilty of the same crime can end up with vastly different sentences under indeterminate sentencing models.

This range can allow judges to consider mitigating circumstances or any unique facts of each defendant’s case. However, the indeterminate sentencing model also allows judges’ biases to play a significant role. For example, currently, many states that have indeterminate sentencing models have data that shows poor people and people of color tend to get longer sentences in the sentence ranges than other people who commit the same crimes. With determinate sentencing, on the other hand, each defendant gets the same sentence for the same crime. Therefore, this model limits judicial discretion (and bias). However, important mitigating factors are not considered when defendants are sentenced.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team