Course Description

601: 663. Criminal Sentencing Law & Policy (2) WI


Prerequisite: Criminal Law.

Sentencing has always been a central component of criminal justice, as it addresses the ultimate “bottom line” issue of how much (and, significantly, what form of) punishment is to be imposed. With criminal trials increasingly rare, the sentencing stage of the adjudicative process has increased in prominence and significance. Moreover, in recent decades, many jurisdictions have adopted formal sentencing guidelines and procedures to govern this once almost entirely discretionary — and therefore, in a meaningful sense, lawless — aspect of the system.

This course will explore various legal, moral, institutional, and practical issues related to the sentencing process as a whole and the determination of appropriate sentences in specific cases. Though particular legal rules and doctrines will be discussed, the central focus will not be on learning the sentencing law of any specific jurisdiction, but on raising and confronting general policy concerns that arise at sentencing. Topics include the purposes of sentencing; the relative role of prosecutors, defense lawyers, juries, judges, and other players in the system; structured versus indeterminate sentencing; procedural and constitutional rules governing sentencing; and considerations relevant to the proper amount of punishment (including characteristics of both the offense(s) and the offender) as well as its form (e.g., incarceration, fine, probation, capital punishment), including possible alternatives to criminal sanction.

Grading and Method of Evaluation

Grades will be based on class participation, several short reaction papers, and a research paper.