The dilemma of the American sentencing judge is qualitatively unique. Because our system of criminal justice has embraced to a degree unequaled elsewhere the rehabilitative ideal that punishment should fit not the crime, but the particular criminal, the sentencing judge must labor to fulfill the dual and sometimes conflicting roles of judge and clinician. Entrusted with enormous discretion, he is expected to "individualize" the sentence he imposes to suit the character, social history, and potential for recidivism of the offender before him. Yet, because of the general absence in our Sentencing Reform system of meaningful procedures for the appellate review of sentences, he is denied standards by which to determine any particular sentence or by which to learn what decisions his fellow judges have reached in similar situations.
To facilitate the goal of individualized sentencing, two related practices have developed within our criminal justice system. First, the use of indeterminate sentences5 has grown up as a means of providing the sentencing judge and correctional authorities with the flexibility thought necessary to tailor individualized sentences. Second, in order to provide the diagnostic information considered essential for meaningful individualization, an elaborate system for the pre-sentence investigation of the offender has gradually developed, resulting in a far-reaching data-gathering process that requires both considerable time and a sizable bureaucratic infrastructure.
John C. Coffee Jr.,
The Future of Sentencing Reform: Emerging Legal Issues in the Individualization of Justice,
Mich. L. Rev.
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