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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF JUDICIAL SENTENCING


Author: Anshika Srivastava, I year of B.A.,LL.B(Hons.) From Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala.


Judges are powerful leaders. We are all impacted by their actions, whether directly or indirectly. However, the majority of us have rarely considered how judges handle the peculiar task of converting their dislike of offenders into years, pounds, or hours of punishment. The psychology of judicial sentencing raises several unanswered problems, such as why no judge has ever imposed a five-month term of imprisonment. Why don’t judges raise concerns about remission and parole, which can lower sentences by as much as two-thirds? Why, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, do they still hold such a strong belief in the distinctive effects of their sentences? We will discuss the psychology of judgment errors in this blog, as well as the belief that judges accurately reflect the opinion of the people, the psychology of presenting explanations, and the challenging task of translating a perception of an offence and offenders into the “correct punishment”.


If hundreds of criminal court judges were asked what aspect of their work they found the most challenging, the overwhelming majority would very definitely respond, “Sentencing”. No other judicial duty leaves the judge more isolated, and no other decision he makes has more potential for good or bad than deciding how society will handle its violators. The psychology and math of prison terms are among the special themes, along with mitigation and sentencing discrepancy. The process of court sentencing involves human judgment and decision-making, with all of its drawbacks and restrictions. Explaining this procedure and its results requires a close look at how judges compile, analyse, and use information regarding criminals.


The necessity for regulation of the criminal justice system across every nation is urgent given the worrisome rise in crime rates in today’s world. Today, crime and punishment make up a highly important and delicate component of society; they can no longer be controlled by traditions and established precedents. It is necessary to implement a fixed regime and to minimize the subjective component as much as feasible. However, it cannot be forgotten that the accused may not receive any specific sanctions since they are too harsh and unaware of their rights. Before creating a punishment strategy, it is necessary to strike an equilibrium between the interests of the two victims. The criminal conviction and the society will both influence the type of punishment administered. Some communities only care about the victim, but others care more about rehabilitating the offender than about punishing them. The sentencing guidelines show the society’s level of judgment and justification for a certain offence. A judge will determine the appropriate sentence at the sentencing stage of a criminal proceeding when a criminal defendant is found guilty or enters a plea of guilt. Depending on the offence and the prisoner, the court may in some cases be able to increase or decrease a sentence. Fines, imprisonment, probation, a suspended sentence, community work, restitution, and engagement in rehabilitation programs are all possible punishments.


Although judges do have the last say in penalties, they are limited in what they can accomplish by the statutes and sentencing guidelines that are in place in each state. Since the late 1970s, judicial discretion has been constrained by the creation of sentencing laws and other methods for structuring the sentence decision. Others argue that additional measures, such as mandatory minimum sentencing restrictions, are necessary to further restrict judicial discretion, while some claim that these arrangements excessively restrict a judge’s capacity to take all pertinent factors into account before rendering a decision. It is important to recognize that the focus on judicial sentencing is a result of a major shift in sentencing theories. In the 1970s, a regime of “indeterminate punishment” was replaced by one based on the principle of “fair deserts”. Two key elements were integrated with indeterminate sentencing. First, with the exception of legislatively mandated maximums and (less frequently) minimums, judicial authority in sentencing was broad and usually uncontrolled. Second, the actual amount of time that offenders spent in custody was determined by the release decisions made by state parole boards, which were appointed by the governor, and who were matched with the judicial decisions concerning sentence duration.


Although Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines accept the concept of just deserts, “attorneys as well as trial judges remain strongly connected to offender-based crime control punishment goals” and the application of judicial discretion has progressively grown. Some of the movement’s most prominent proponents claimed that one of the movement’s main objectives was to improve judicial discretion by restricting the “back end” jurisdiction of parole boards. They also point out the particular accountability that judges have for their sentence judgments.


Since each offender is now seen as an individual, the sentencing judge asks the offender why he did the crime and what the likelihood is that he may repeat it again. The judge’s main goal is to treat rather than punish. Numerous new issues have arisen as a result of the emphasis placed on treating the individual. Judges must consider an overwhelming number of factors in order to determine the appropriate course of action for specific inmates. I think that every sentence’s main objective should be to deter future criminality. There isn’t much that can be done to undo the harm done in the past, and a sentence would succeed in its goal if it respects the rule of law, deters those who might be tempted to conduct similar crimes, and results in the offender’s rehabilitation so that he won’t break the law again. The judge must be as informed as possible about the prisoner who is in front of him. He should understand how the convict is likely to respond to incarceration or probation as well as the expected implications of penalties on individuals who could conduct similar offences. He is well aware that, in many circumstances, a jail sentence not only shortens the lifespan of the inmate but also taints the lives of uninvolved family members. Every judge is keenly aware of the potential impact fatherlessness may have on a prisoner’s son after five years.


However, society must be safeguarded, a criminal activity must be discouraged, violent offenders must be isolated, and convicts must be reformatted. The optimal sentence to achieve these goals must be chosen by someone. The judge is responsible for this responsibility in federal courts, although the person who is convicted would face the same issues regardless of his position.


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