Mercy and the roles of judges

Authored by: Adam Perry

The Routledge Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics

Print publication date:  July  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415708654
eBook ISBN: 9781315885933
Adobe ISBN: 9781134619450


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Suppose that a person has been convicted of a crime and comes before a judge to be sentenced. This person has had a hard life, and the judge feels compassion for him. At first she is tempted to show mercy and impose a light sentence. She resists this temptation, though, and imposes a heavier but just sentence instead. Did the judge act rightly? When, if ever, ought judges to show mercy during sentencing? After the judge imposes her sentence, the criminal asks the head of state (or the appropriate executive body) to pardon him. Moved by the criminal’s plight, the head of state shows mercy and grants his request. The criminal is not free yet, however. His victims go to the judge and ask her to rule that the pardon is invalid. On what basis ought judges to evaluate—or, as lawyers say, “review”—a decision by a head of state to grant (or withhold) mercy?

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