Sentencing Guidelines In The Criminal Justice System

3816 words - 16 pages

The criminal justice system has been in place the United States for centuries. The system has endured many changes throughout the ages. The need for a checks and balances system has been a priority for just as long. Federal sentencing guidelines were created to help create equal punishments among offenders. Judges are given the power of sentencing and they are not immune to opinions, bias, and feelings. These guidelines are set in place to allow the judge to keep their power but keep them within a control group of equality. Although there are a lot of pros to sentencing guidelines there are also a lot of cons. Research has shown that sentencing guidelines have allowed the power to shift from judges to prosecutors and led to sentencing disparity based on sex, race, and social class.
There are differences between state and federal sentencing guidelines. The federal guidelines are very vast and complicated (Leonard-Kempf and Sample 2001 p.113). These guidelines have been amended many times over the course of the past 25 years. According to Gazal-Ayal, Turjeman and Fishman (2013 p. 131) judges have historically had the weight and responsibility to sentence criminals in the way that they see fit. Some judges have abused this responsibility leading to the creation of sentencing guidelines. The Sentencing Reform Act was passed in 1984 in order to place strict guidelines on the judge’s discretion during sentencing (Rehavi and Starr 2013 p. 11). The United States Sentencing Committee wanted to keep the judge’s personal opinions and beliefs separate from the courtroom in order to create fair sentences. The creation of sentencing guidelines keeps people involved in the sentencing process in check.
These guidelines have the best of intentions but they have their downfall. When the guidelines were created they allowed the power to shift from the judges’ hands to the prosecutors’ hands (Gazal-Ayal, Tureman and Fishman 2013 p.132). The guidelines that were set, could be looked up by anyone; the prosecutors now had an advantage because most offenses carry a minimum and a maximum sentence. The prosecutors choose which offense to charge a criminal with. Once they chose which crime they were punishing them with they had a rough estimate of how much prison or jail time a defendant could be facing (Gazal-Ayal, Turemand and Fishman 2013 p. 132). This idea has led many people to believe that prosecutors now have the power to sentence offenders.
Prosecutors have an enormous amount of control in the sentencing process. More than 95% of sentences come from guilty pleas, because of the plea deals that defendants are offered (Rehavi and Starr 2013 p. 10). These guidelines have created a playbook for prosecutors to follow when they make plea bargains. The guidelines have an equation that calculates a range of time that a defendant could be sentenced to incarceration (Leonard –Kempf and Sample 2011 p. 114). The level of an offense is based on the...

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