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Sentencing: Allocation of Authority

A Discretion Diagram

A pictorial discretion diagram can be used to visualize many of the important relationships that exist in real-world sentencing systems. Figure 1, "A Discretion Diagram for Sentencing Systems," is a generic diagram that is not tailored to any up-and-running system. It introduces a cast of characters who may or may not possess meaningful sentencing authority in a given punishment structure. These include, at the "systemic level," the legislature (important in all U.S. jurisdictions) and a sentencing commission (chartered in more than twenty U.S. jurisdictions as of 1999). At the "case specific-level," Figure 1 begins with the parties (meant to include the defendant, the defense lawyer, and the prosecutor), adds various judicial actors, and concludes with corrections and parole officials.

From the perspective of a designer of sentencing systems, Figure 1 might be seen as a basic palette of primary colors from which the designer may work to create the fundamental discretionary relationships within a new system. As we shall see below, there are a great variety of design options for the power relationships that can be fashioned among the players shown in Figure 1.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawSentencing: Allocation of Authority - Definition Of Sentencing Discretion, A Discretion Diagram, Indeterminate Sentencing Systems, Statutory Determinate Sentencing, Mandatory Penalties