Study highlights the role of U.S. judges in avoiding illegal misconduct and applying principles of morality

A team of researchers at the University of Surrey showcased strategies that could aid in resolving conflicts between morality and the rule of law.

The study depicts a past example of a criminal case involving a man in his early-20s with no past criminal record, who was convicted by a U.S. judge of selling hundreds of US dollars worth of marijuana and subsequently sentenced to more than half a century in prison.

In such cases, a judge decides whether the law’s requirements outweigh the principles of morality, in which some judicial actors in those capacities lack a balance to meet both legal and moral demands.

“We must start to challenge the notion that judges can never do anything but apply the law in mechanical fashion. Often, with some creativity, judges can find options that are both legally acceptable and that needn’t sacrifice deeply held moral commitments,” said one author of the study, in an academic news release.

“Rather than making legal sacrifices to attain moral perfection or making moral sacrifices to attain perfection in the eyes of the law, judges facing judicial dilemmas should chart a middle course: Seek out options that are at least sufficiently good by the lights of both morality and law. Perfection is the enemy of the good, as the old saying goes.”

The full paper was made available and released in the Virginia Journal of Criminal Law.

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