Understanding the Sentencing Process in France
Crime and Justice, Vol. 45(1), p. 221-265, 2016
45 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2017 Last revised: 30 Apr 2020
Date Written: June 1, 2016
French sentencing is characterized by broad judicial discretion and an ethos of individualized justice focused on rehabilitation. The aims are to prevent recidivism, and so protect the interests of society, while reintegrating the offender. By contrast, the political Right, characterized by the recent Sarkozy regime, favors deterrence through harsher penalties, minimum prison sentences, increased incarceration, and preventive detention of offenders considered dangerous. The sentencing process can be understood only within the broader context of inquisitorially rooted criminal procedure. The central part played by the prosecutor (including in case disposition through alternative sanctions) and her role in recommending sentences that the court almost invariably endorses, together with the unitary nature of the judicial profession, means that there is remarkable consistency in penalties imposed. The contrainte pénale, based on a reconsideration of the range of available penalties put forward by the Consensus Commission and legislated in 2014, is unlikely to have great impact without investment in the probation service and a change in the judicial culture that still favors simple sentencing options, including imprisonment, compared with alternatives now in place.
Keywords: Sentencing, French Criminal Procedure
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