Why is discretion a necessary feature of the criminal justice system?

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As elsewhere in life, discretion is important in the criminal justice system. Courts often have to deal with complex cases which don't result in easy answers. Yes, there are rules, but those rules need to be interpreted by judges according to the specific facts of the case. Far from the...

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As elsewhere in life, discretion is important in the criminal justice system. Courts often have to deal with complex cases which don't result in easy answers. Yes, there are rules, but those rules need to be interpreted by judges according to the specific facts of the case. Far from the facts of the case being bent to fit the rules, the rules must be accommodated to fit the facts. A "one size fits all" policy in relation to sentencing, though more predictable, would undoubtedly lead to injustice, with disproportionate sentences becoming the norm.

Discretion is also important in that it allows judges to take certain policy imperatives into consideration. In some cases, for example, it may be necessary for the courts to show leniency because the prisons are overcrowded. At other times, the judge in a particular case may feel that a strict application of the relevant law would undermine its overall spirit, thus defeating its original intention.

On the whole, judges have a very difficult balancing act to perform. If they're too rigid in interpreting the law, miscarriages of justice may well arise. On the other hand, if they exercise too much discretion, they open themselves to the accusation that they are making the law, rather than interpreting it.

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Discretion is the freedom to decide how a situation should be handled within our criminal justice system. Discretion offers checks and balances within the system. Our law is written very clearly as to what is a crime and its related consequence. However, the judge or jury have discretion as to the final verdict and outcome. This allows individual circumstances to be considered. When responding to this question, you will want to include an example or two. For instance, two people can rob a bank. However if it is discovered that one of the robbers orchestrated the robbery and threatened to harm a loved one of the accomplice if he didn’t participate in the robbery, the judge and jury may take that into consideration and give a more severe consequence to the first robber. You could also discuss the discretion used in the process to charge a defendant. Although a necessary component, some people think the justice system is too discretionary. You could also discuss those beliefs in your response.

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Discretion is (in the minds of many) a necessary feature of the criminal justice system because not all crimes and not all criminals are exactly alike.  Because there are infinite differences between individual cases of the same type of crime, it is important to have discretion exist as a feature of the system.

One example of this can be seen in the problems that are inherent to determinate sentencing efforts such as "three strikes" laws.  When such laws are enacted, with mandatory life sentences, you end up having people sentenced to life in prison for acts which do not (to most people) come near to the level of severity that would warrant such a penalty.  When discretion is not available, seemingly unjust results like that can occur.  This is why discretion is so important in the criminal justice system.

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