Equality versus Discretion in SentencingTwo conflicting con…

Equality versus Discretion in Sentencing Two conflicting concepts of justice are equality versus discretion in sentencing. Using real-life examples, distinguish the merits of each viewpoint. Provide three (3) arguments for each position.


The debate between equality and discretion in sentencing has been a topic of much discussion and debate in the field of criminal justice. Equality in sentencing refers to the principle that all individuals who commit the same crime should receive the same punishment, regardless of any extraneous factors such as their background, socioeconomic status, or personal circumstances. On the other hand, discretion in sentencing refers to the belief that judges should have the flexibility to consider individual factors and circumstances when determining an appropriate punishment for a crime. In this essay, we will explore the merits of both viewpoints by providing real-life examples and presenting three arguments for each position.

Equality in Sentencing

Advocates for equality in sentencing argue that it ensures fairness and consistency in the criminal justice system. By treating all individuals who commit the same crime equally, this approach promotes the idea that no one is above the law and that justice is blind. The following arguments further support this viewpoint:

1. Deterrence and public perception: When individuals can predict the consequences of their actions, it serves as a deterrent and discourages crime. If people perceive that the punishment for a specific offense is consistent and equal among all offenders, they are less likely to engage in criminal behavior. This argument suggests that equality in sentencing helps maintain social order and promotes community safety.

For example, in countries like Singapore, a strict approach towards drug offenses has been implemented, whereby even small amounts of certain drugs can result in lengthy prison sentences or even the death penalty. The consistent and harsh punishments for drug offenses have contributed to Singapore having one of the lowest drug abuse rates globally, indicating the effectiveness of equal sentencing in deterring drug-related crimes.

2. Procedural fairness and trust in the justice system: Equality in sentencing enhances procedural fairness by removing the potential for bias in the criminal justice system. If punishments were determined based on individual discretion, there may be room for personal biases or discriminatory practices. By following a structured and consistent approach, equality in sentencing ensures that individuals are treated fairly and that trust in the justice system is maintained.

For instance, in the United States, sentencing guidelines were established to decrease disparities in sentencing outcomes. These guidelines provide a framework for judges to determine sentences based on the severity of the crime and the offender’s criminal history, reducing the potential for arbitrary decision-making and promoting trust in the justice system.

3. Resource allocation and cost-effectiveness: Equality in sentencing can lead to more efficient resource allocation within the criminal justice system. When punishments are standardized and consistent, it allows for effective planning and utilization of resources. This can result in cost savings by reducing the need for lengthy and expensive court proceedings and appeals.

In the case of Sweden, the use of day-fines has been implemented, where the severity of a fine is determined based on the offender’s daily income. This approach not only ensures equal treatment but also expedites the sentencing process, thereby reducing the burden on the judicial system and optimizing resource allocation.

Discretion in Sentencing

Supporters of discretion in sentencing argue that it allows for flexibility in addressing unique circumstances and considers the individual characteristics of the offender. By recognizing that not all crimes and offenders are the same, this approach can result in more tailored and just sentencing decisions. The following arguments further support this viewpoint:

1. Individualization of punishment: Discretion in sentencing allows judges to consider various factors, such as the defendant’s background, their level of involvement in the crime, and their potential for rehabilitation. This individualized approach takes into account the specific circumstances surrounding the offense and ensures that the punishment fits both the crime and the offender.