Should judges have discretion in sentencing? The answer cannot be “yes” or “no” but only the further question “how much?”. The bulk of this statement will be devoted to this second question, but I will first explain why there is no absolute answer to the issue of judicial discretion in sentencing.
Most legal systems grant the sentencing judge (practically) unlimited freedom to choose among a vast array of dispositions in any given case. Legal standards guiding their decision-making are typically non-directive, vague, or non-existent. The result, not unexpectedly, is a great disparity in sentencing outcomes. This state of affairs can best be explained in terms of unquestioned tradition and judicial self-image.