Discretion: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

This lesson will teach you about discretion. Specifically, you will learn about police discretion. You will review examples and gain a thorough understanding of discretion.

Definition of Discretion

Have you ever gotten out of a speeding ticket? Maybe an officer felt compelled to pull you over, but depending on the circumstances of the situation, he or she decided to let you off with a warning instead of giving you a ticket. If something like this has happened to you, you've lived first-hand through an instance of police discretion.

Discretion is judgment applied to questionable decisions, or decisions with one or more resolutions. Moreover, discretion frequently involves unilateral decision making without consulting others.

Police often have to make decisions on the spot without consulting others. Moreover, police have to decide whether or not to use their weapons when pursuing suspects. Additionally, police have to determine when to assist others. All of these determinations involve police discretion.

Discretion Examples

Let's look as some examples to get a better understanding of discretion. Imagine that Bob is driving in a 55 mile per hour zone. Bob is traveling at 75 miles per hour. Sandy the police officer pulls Bob over. Sandy has the discretion of either giving Bob a warning or giving Bob a ticket; the decision is up to Sandy. Sandy decides not to give Bob a ticket because Bob has a perfect driving record. Bob gets off with a warning.

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