many judges are interested in providing the most innovative and up-to-date care possible. Police and prosecutors are also directly influenced by the judge, whose sentencing discretion affects the arrest and charging processes. For example, if a judge usually chooses minimal sentences—such as a fine for a particular offense—the police may be reluctant to arrest offenders for that crime, knowing that doing so will basically be a waste of time. Similarly, if a judge is known to have an open attitude toward police discretion, the local department may be more inclined to engage in practices that border on entrapment or to pursue cases through easily obtained wiretaps. However, a magistrate oriented toward strict use of due process guarantees would stifle such activities by dismissing all cases involving apparent police abuses of personal freedoms. The district attorney’s office may also be sensitive to judicial attitudes. The district attorney might forgo indictments in cases that the presiding magistrate expressly considers trivial or quasi-criminal and in which the judge has been known to take only token action, such as the prosecution of pornographers. Finally, the judge considers requests by police and prosecutors for leniency (or severity) in sentencing. The judge’s reaction to these requests is important if the police and the district attorney are to honor the bargains
they may have made with defendants to secure information, cooperation, or guilty pleas. For example, when police tell informers that they will try to convince the judge to go easy on them to secure required information, they will often discuss the terms of the promised leniency with representatives of the court. If a judge ignores police demands, the department’s bargaining power is severely diminished, and communication within the criminal justice system is impaired. There is always concern that judges will discriminate against defendants on the basis of their gender, race, or class. Although this issue is of great social concern, most research efforts have failed to find consistent bias in judicial decision making. Judges tend to dismiss cases that they consider weak and less serious.19 Judicial Qualifications The qualifications for appointment to one of the existing 30,000 judgeships vary from state to state and court to court. Typically, the potential judge must be a resident of the state, licensed to practice law, a member of the state bar association, and at least 25 and less than 70 years of age. However, a significant degree of diversity exists in the basic qualifications, depending on the level of court juris- diction. Although almost every state requires judges to have a law degree if they are to serve on appellate courts or courts of general jurisdiction, it is not uncommon for municipal or town court judges to lack a legal background, even though they have the power to incarcerate criminal defendants. Judges are held in high esteem, but they must sacrifice many financial benefits if they shift careers from lucrative private practices to low-paid government positions. Although an average
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- Summer '08
- Supreme Court of the United States, Appellate court, State court