Crime, Judicial Discretion and Reconciliation: A Place for Christian Theology in Criminal Sentencing

Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Closed Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)


Duke University School of Law


There is no religious test for holding office. A judge takes the bench with a personal worldview and resulting morality in place. That worldview is grounded in some understanding of the ultimate nature of reality which is essentially religious. Can a Christian jurist align his or her sentencing decisions with the redemptive purposes of God, through the exercise of discretion within existing Florida law, and do so exercising authority in good faith and transparency to the community? After considering the core content of Christian theology and the parameters of existing criminal law and procedure, the answer is “yes” under limited circumstances.

Because the law is unsettled in each application, given that it is either indeterminate, subject to competing precedent, or open to the prioritization of legal factors to be weighed, discretion will be exercised and choices will be made by the jurist in every case. The very act of judging will require the consideration of extralegal norms that are religious in nature. This practice is inevitable and thus occurring, is legally permissible, and potentially helpful. For the Christian jurist, having received divine forgiveness is at the core of personal identity, emanates from a specific worldview, and results in corresponding moral norms. That specific worldview and morality, including the imperative to forgive as one has been forgiven, will, may, and should be operative.

Recognizing that the state’s primary interest may not be the reconciliation of the offender to the victim and broader community through forgiveness, current Florida law still allows the Court to properly posture itself to exercise legal analogs to forgiveness, reconciliation, and non-remembrance through the process of plea allocution, the withhold of adjudication, probation, restitution and expungement. It is in the interest of the democratic state to ensure broad participation in the political process and thereby reduce marginalization, polarization, and community fragmentation. While the state’s primary purpose may not be the facilitation of reconciliation and restoration through the criminal justice process, discretion can be exercised by the court in an effort to maximize restorative options under current law and avoid creating unnecessary impediments to the offender seeking personal restoration through a reconciled relationship with God, the Christian community, crime victims and all fellow citizens.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Judges, Law and Christianity, Judicial process, Sentences (Criminal procedure)