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Hobbes's avatar

Is the emotional aspect of our judicial system a positive thing?

Asked by Hobbes (7355points) August 2nd, 2008

Our legal system does not have a fixed punishment for every crime, the sentencing is left up to the judge (within limits). Similarly, the personal feelings of a jury are responsible for declaring someone guilty or innocent. This allows for more flexibility and for responding to each case individually, however, it also means that someone may get a harsher punishment because, say, the judge hasn’t had his morning coffee yet. It also allows juries to be swayed by a skillful lawyer through emotional appeal, and means that juries can be stacked with people biased for or against the defendant.

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6 Answers

jballou's avatar

I agree that aspects of our judicial system have an “emotional” component, but what would be the alternative? I think of what you call emotional as simply human. Judges are usually old for a reason- it takes the better part of a lifetime to become a judge, and I think the process is so long and intensive because it also serves as quality control. Obviously bad apples slip through the cracks and there are corrupt judges as a result, but this goes along with having a human justice system.

I think the system needs to allow for flexibility and leeway because it serves so many purposes. It is a system of punishment for the guilty, a system of rehabilitation, a system of clearing your name for the falsely accused, the list foes on and on. So yes, I think the emotional aspect is a positive thing. Especially compared with “unemotional” judicial systems that exist in other parts of the world.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

my criminal justice teacher had a good explanation for why we have a system that allows for such variance in punishment, and why fixed sentences for crimes are bad ideas. He gave the example of 2 little kids and both misbehave and get in trouble for the same thing. (though separate from eachother) 15 minutes in the corner for lil johnny might be just the right amount of punishment for him, where as the same punishment for lil jerry might be really harsh on him and too much. or vice versa, where only 5 minutes in the corner for jerry is a good punishment, but means nothing to johnny.
So basically the same goes for adults, it really isn’t fair to give one punishment for a crime when the punishment for 1 person might be considered extreme for another person who committed the same or similar crime. So really, the only way to give a fair sentencing is to do it on a case by case basis. And yeah sometimes it will be unfair, but its much more fair than if there was a set punishment for a crime.

marinelife's avatar

I think the wreckage in the wake of mandatory drug sentencing should be more than enough to convince anyone that judicial discretion in sentencing is better. Sentence ranges ensure that there will few total miscarriages of justice on a judge’s whim.

As to juries, they have clear instructions on what basis they can rule. Voir Dire and challenges allowed each side tend to weed out impossibly partial jurors. That said, do they sometimes err? Yes.

Does the prosecution err or lie sometimes? Yes

Does the defense get the guilty off? OJ

It is still, on balance, the best system around.

nikipedia's avatar

Is the emotional aspect positive? No, not really. Is there anything we can do about it? Not entirely, but we can try our best—that’s why we have things like jury voir dire and the million arcane courtroom rules about what is and isn’t leading, what’s admissible as evidence, etc.

Also, I know this is only tangentially related, but I’d like to suggest that the distinction between emotional judgments and cognitive judgments is blurry at best. Seems rather difficult to parse them apart, to me.

Knotmyday's avatar

“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” A triumph of voir dire. :^(

josie's avatar

You can only do your best when “designing” a system to assure legal justice. Human beings are fallible, and capable of being both objective and subjective. If your judge and jury are human beings, that is the way it is. Nothing you can do about it, except as stated above, have rules of evidence and procedure.

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