Date of Award

Spring 2005

Document Type



Sociology & Anthropology

First Advisor

Fr. Jeremiah Lowney

Second Advisor

Cheryl Hoover

Third Advisor

Rick Moritz


This paper examines the concept of discretion and how it functions within the criminal justice system. Specifically, this paper looks at the history of police discretion, and current definitions of discretion. In addition, several theories are examined in cases where they apply to the use of discretion by police officers. The factors involved in decisions made by police officers every day are outlined and the importance of each factor and the effect it has on police discretion are looked at and evaluated as well as the importance of police discretion and its affect in the field of police work, with a closer look at its use in juvenile cases and its application and effect in Helena, Montana. Case studies involving first hand accounts of the use of police discretion by Helena City Police Officers are included. Finally, the results of a citizen survey and an officer survey are included in the paper. The citizen survey gives an overall view of the opinions of Helena area citizens on the police in Helena. The police officers survey gives an overall view of the opinions of the officers on their and other officers’ use of discretion on the job.