Discretion in Criminal Justice
First, explain the role of discretion in criminal justice.
Next, describe the instance from the Module One discussion in detail, providing background information surrounding the discretionary decision. (You may use your initial post from the Module One discussion board to help you with this.)
Then, choose one element and describe the role it plays in the discretionary decision-making process in general:
Last, explain how that same element chosen above (integrity, authority, discretionary power, or morality) may have affected the discretionary decision made in the instance provided.
Specifically, the following rubric criteria must be addressed:
Explain the role of discretion in criminal justice.
Describe an instance of discretionary decision making you have seen in the media.
Describe the role one element (integrity, authority, discretionary power, or morality) plays in discretionary decision making in general.
Explain how one element (integrity, authority, discretionary power, or morality) may have affected the discretionary decision made in the instance provided.
Discretion in Criminal Justice
Discretion is the ability to use one’s judgment when deciding how to act or make decisions. It involves choosing between various courses of action or selecting a particular option from several possibilities. In criminal justice, it is the ability of police officers, prosecutors, and judges to decide whether or not to charge someone with a crime and how to handle cases once they are brought before them. For example, police officers can decide whether or not to arrest someone for an offence, and prosecutors have discretion over whether or not to charge someone with a crime and what charges should be filed against them (felonies vs misdemeanours) (Hardy, 2020). Judges also have some discretion in sentencing if they choose not to give probation or community service but instead send someone to jail or prison for their crime. Government officials can also make discretionary decisions at various levels of government (Hartley and Tillyer, 2018). For example, elected officials often have discretion over how tax revenue is allocated and spent because they are responsible for making decisions about spending within their jurisdiction or district without having to go through any kind of approval process before committing these funds to projects that they believe will benefit their constituents most effectively.
I have seen an instance of discretionary decision making in the media. The example is related to a news story on an individual charged with a crime but was not convicted. The person was released from jail after posting bail and was not found guilty, but the media still reported on him as if he had been convicted. The article that I read was about a man named Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. He was unarmed at the time of the incident, and there were conflicting accounts of what happened before his death. The media reported on this story as if he were guilty and that the police officer had done nothing wrong by shooting him (First et al., 2020). This may have been due to racial bias against African Americans or because it sells more newspapers when someone is accused of something wrong rather than when they are acquitted or found innocent. In this case, it seems like there could be some discretion involved in deciding how much information should be released about someone who has been arrested or charged with a crime (like Michael Brown) but hasn’t been convicted yet (before he died).
The role of integrity in discretionary decision making, in general, is to ensure that decisions are made in the interest of all stakeholders, not just in the interests of the ones who make them. The most important aspect of integrity is that it requires moral courage. One must be able to make decisions that involve risk and uncertainty and require one to take a stand on controversial issues when there is no clear right or wrong answer. In addition, one must be willing to admit mistakes and change policies based on new information or circumstances. Integrity also involves fairness; people should not be treated differently because of their position or identity (DeMichele et al., 2019). . It also requires accountability; leaders should be held responsible for their actions and decisions and should not be allowed to hide behind ignorance or lack of knowledge as an excuse for failure or poor results.
Conclusively, in Ferguson, Missouri, there was a police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man. The officer said he shot Brown in self-defence after Brown assaulted him and tried to take his gun. The grand jury’s decision not to indict this officer shows a lack of integrity by the prosecutor. The evidence does not support the officer’s story. He could have been indicted for murder or manslaughter, but instead, we’re left with an injustice that has led to massive protests.
DeMichele, M., Baumgartner, P., Barrick, K., Comfort, M., Scaggs, S., & Misra, S. (2019). What do criminal justice professionals think about risk assessment at pretrial? Fed. Probation, 83, 32.
First, J. M., Danforth, L., Frisby, C. M., Warner, B. R., Ferguson Jr, M. W., & Houston, J. B. (2020). Posttraumatic stress related to the killing of Michael Brown and resulting civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri: Roles of protest engagement, media use, race, and resilience. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, 11(3), 369-391.
Hardy, M. (2020). Discretion in the Surveillance State. Discretion and the Quest for Controlled Freedom, 41-61.
Hartley, R. D., & Tillyer, R. (2018). Examining prosecutorial discretion in federal criminal cases: Legal and extra-legal determinants of declination and charge change decisions. Justice Quarterly, 35(7), 1195-1225.
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