Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

For a simple sentence: A or B

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-10-30

Very little time goes by without some comment in the media about inappropriate sentences by judges.  Some suggest that juries should define sentences, without the least thinking of how much more difficult it is to organize sentencing compared to a verdict.

I’m wondering why we don’t adopt the model from classical Athens, which avoids development of unreasonable sentences by juries, and absolves judges from criticism (apart from their administration of the case and their instructions on matters of law to juries).

Here’s the nutshell version: if you were found guilty, the prosecution and the defence each proposed a penalty, then the jury voted which one to accept.

This means that both prosecution and defence wouldn’t argue for something completely out of line: both would have to argue for something reasonable that the juries would probably accept as better than the proposal of the other lawyer.

Such an approach is easy to administer, will probably lead to good outcomes, and cut down on media sensationalism about out-of-touch judges.

The only refinement is that I’d recommend that the proposal from each lawyer be written down, and handed to the judge so that neither lawyer would have the advantage of knowledge the other’s proposal.

The only thing newsworthy about sentencing then would be if the defence proposed a harsher sentence than the prosecution – something that might actually happen under such a system.


  • Even with capital punishment, the Athenians seem to have been more civilized than us.  Hemlock seems to have been humane, especially as it was relatively slow and you were able to have a comforting chat with your friends and family throughout: even able to drink it at your own pace.  Read Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates for the most famous account of this process.

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