Discretion in the Criminal Justice System

May 7, 2018 Criminology

Shifting the amount of discretion within our justice system could be for better or worse, but why fix something that’s not broken? Although most police officers use discretion, “Many police officers (and whole departments) prefer to focus on the justice aspects of police work: getting offenders off the streets, responding to emergencies, scoring big drug busts, and generally ‘catching the bad guys. ‘” (Fuller, J. R. Pg. 6. ) No matter how much discretion you give an officer, it’s ultimately their choice to use it.

Although it is common throughout the criminal justice system, some authoritative figures don’t use discretion in a way to guide punishments; they stay in accordance with established guidelines. In my opinion, depending on the severity of the crime discretion should or should not be used. For example, discretion should be used for a first time offender for speeding but should not be used for a first time offender of rape. “The police are typically the first contact that young victims and delinquents have with the juvenile justice system. As with adults, law enforcement serves as the gatekeeper to the justice system. ” (Fuller, J.

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R. Pg 17. ) It is extremely important for a police officer to make the decision of introducing a juvenile to the justice system. The responsibility for authorities to use discretion is crucial for a juvenile’s future. With adults, less discretion could be used because they have a greater sense of morals. In today’s society I have personally seen adults expect leniency just because, for example, they have a police organization bumper sticker. Enforcing the law for adults who are habitual offenders is necessary to uphold order. One can only push society and the law so far; at some point you must face the consequences.

As we talked about in class, the 3-strike rule is a fair method of deciding who should be held accountable. “Three major studies were commissioned to examine police practices in detail and to update the 1931 Wickersham commission report (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, 1971). These include the report of the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (1967) entitled The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society (1967), a report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (1968), and a report of the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (1973).

Each of these commissions was a major undertaking by a large number of scholars and practitioners who focused on solving some of the problems in both policing and the criminal justice system as a whole. The commission reports include multiple proposals to tighten the controls over police discretion, including the use and abuse of force. ” (Alpert, Dunham. Pg. 11. ) Whether for good or bad; laws shape citizen’s views of beliefs, actions and character.

Unfortunately not all systems of morality and discretion are used properly. Discretion should be used in moderation and to preserve order in society, not used in excessive amounts to threaten the law’s purpose. In summary, I feel discretion is a necessity. With our overcrowded jails, police and judges need to use their training, insight and experience to keep the public safe from individuals that have no regard for the law. Bibliography * Alpert, Geoffrey P. ; Dunham, Roger G…

Understanding Police Use of Force: Officers, Suspects, and Reciprocity. West Nyack, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2004. p 11. * Hagan, F. (2011). Ch 1. Essentials of Research Methods in Criminal Justice and Criminology (pp. 1-45). New York, New York: Prentice Hall, 3rd Edition. * Fuller, J. R. (2008). Juvenile Delinquency – Mainstream and Crosscurrents. New York, New York: Prentice Hall, 1st edition. * Owen, S. S. (2012). Foundations of criminal justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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