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Congressional Activity and Discretion in the Criminal Justice System (From Discretion, Justice, and Democracy, P 81-89, 1985, Carl F Pinkele and William C Louthan, eds. - See NCJ-96653)

NCJ Number
E I Sidlow; B M Henschen
Date Published
9 pages
This paper reviews actions undertaken by Congress between 1960 and 1980 to limit judicial discretion, and considers why those actions failed.
In the 1960's, Congressional concern with limiting discretion resulted in the Bail Reform Act of 1966 and in legislation designed to permit the appeal of sentences imposed in felony cases in district courts. In the 1970's there was a marked increase in legislative activity designed to limit judicial discretion. Still, Congress did relatively little to reduce discretion in the judicial system during this 20- year period. In fact, fully one-half of the legislative activities that occurred between 1970 and 1980 were concerned with reforming the Federal criminal code, but Congress was not effective in enacting this legislation. Efforts to limit the exercise of discretion in certain decisionmaking situations is evident in legislation such as the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act Amendments of 1973. One of the major impediments to reform has been that there are few political benefits to be gained from expending much effort on this type of activity. Moreover, the incremental processes that characterize congressional policymaking do not lend themselves to comprehensive revisions of complex laws. Narrowing the range of discretion that is exercised nonetheless remains an important goal.


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