American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 45, Issue 4, 124-129


Copyright © 2009 American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Some 20 years ago, I released a defendant facing a minor charge pending his trial, who promptly beat up proprietors in a new attempted robbery. I had no access to information about the defendant’s criminal history. Even today, my mistakes that are based on inadequate information can allow tremendous harm to victims, communities, families, and children. I profoundly hope that I’m sending the right people to prison, to probation under proper conditions, and to the right providers.

It is, of course, terrible when someone we release promptly causes great harm. It is understandable that observers blame the judge for that harm (even if the judge had no lawful choice). But our decisions often play out badly over a much longer period of time. Others may participate along the path to the harm and spare us at least visible fault, but we still desperately hope that we improve the outcome: a criminal pretrial, sentence, or probation decision that best protects the community from future criminal conduct; a family custody, dependency, or delinquency decision that leads to the most successful childhood, adulthood, and subsequent parenting; a civil commitment decision that leads to the highest level of functioning for an impaired citizen; a disposition that helps any victims best emerge from their victimization and serves the legitimate purposes of “just deserts.”