There are many battles fought by attorneys in the criminal field, but only two main battles are fought in the courtroom: the guilty/not-guilty verdict, and the sentence. In most situations involving juries, these two battles are fought in two different theatres of war, the jury decides the verdict and the judge decides the sentence. However there are currently six states that allow the jury to conduct sentencing as well as a guilty/not guilty verdict: Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.
As Felony Jury Sentencing in Practice: A Three-State Study explains, the theory behind jury sentencing is very flawed. In theory it is supposed to gauge the sentiment that the public has towards certain crimes and give the people the power to put people in prison for the amount of time that they see fit due to the crime that they have been deemed to have committed. Unfortunately, the reality is that juries are given one lone job, in a sea of ongoing litigation. The juries are currently given sentencing guidelines which they then follow. My question is: if we trust the juries to make decision of guilty and not guilty, why can we not trust them to also make the decision of how long the defendant. that they have put behind bars, should lose his freedom?
To make a necessary change in our legal system we have to find a way to get people out of prison. As of today the United States has around 2.2 million people currently incarcerated which is the largest prison population in the world. This is largely due to long sentences given to prisoners who do not necessarily deserve to have their lives wasted away in a prison cell. There are countless stories of young men being placed behind bars for the majority of their adult life for a mistake that can be chalked up to immaturity. If we chose to give juries the freedom to choose their own sentences rather than use the guidelines given to them by a higher power, would that not give the people more democracy in regards to the criminal justice system than we currently have? By giving the juries the ability to have a full range of sentences at their disposal we would get a more democratic approach to the legal system, and while the ranges of punishments for like offenses would probably vary greatly among regions, we would get to see how people truly felt about certain crimes and how they should be punished. I believe that if we are going to give the duty of sentencing to the jury, we should give them the freedom to decide how long they are going to take freedom away from someone else. If they get out of control, we can always just do what the rest of America does… let the Judge decide.