The procedures that follow a trial include post-trial motions and sentencing. Post-trial motions can involve the defense requesting that the judge override the guilty verdict issued by the jury. This can result in either the granting of a new trial or an acquittal of the defendant. The most common post-trial procedure however, is sentencing.
When a defendant is found to be guilty and post-trial motions have been exhausted, the sentencing phase begins. The sentence is determined by the judge that presides over the case. There used to be a great deal of discretion involved in the sentences that judges imposed but, mandatory sentencing guidelines has greatly changed this.
“The sentencing guidelines describe exactly what facts are important for determining a sentence. The defendant’s race, sex, national origin, religion, and socio-economic status are prohibited from consideration. Instead, the sentence is based largely on the seriousness of the crime and on the defendant s past criminal record” (Conaboy, 1996).
While sentencing guidelines were supposed to create a more fair and consistent judicial process, many believe that the result has actually been racial disparity. Further, there has been disparity between sentencing guidelines and judicial actions because sentencing guidelines do not completely eliminate judicial discretion. Instead, sentencing is just structured by the guidelines systems that is responsive to congressional direction that is set forth in the Sentencing Reform Act (United States Sentencing Commission, 1991). In this manner, when there is legislation that is unfair and creates racial disparity in the justice system, there is not a great deal that judges can do to prevent the effects from manifesting in the sentences that they hand down. This was made very clear with regard to the bias legislation that called for harsher sentences for crack cocaine violations in comparison to powered cocaine violations when it was statistically clear that minorities were the primary consumers and distributors of crack cocaine and that both forms of the drug consisted of the same basic chemical composition.
Following an evaluation of the purpose of creation, the benefits, and the disadvantages of sentencing guidelines, it is clear that they should be used in a more advisory capacity than a mandatory capacity. Every case is different and judges need flexibility to hand down sentences in a fair manner that is conducive to the specific characteristics of the case. Making sentencing guidelines mandatory significantly hinders their ability to do so which is a deviation from the pursuit of justice.