Does a judge has the discretion to not jail someone who is guilty of having murdered someone? If not to what extent can he reduce a murder sentence if the verdict of the jury is guilty? I am wondering how much impact the bias of a judge can have on criminal sentencing in the U.S., because it seems that judges aren't always very objective.
In the US, there are limits on judicial sentencing discretion, which differ from state to state. For example, mandatory minimum sentences are common for certain crimes. Sentences may also be computed based on a statutory point system considering the nature of the crime and the person convicted (first-offender; multiple offender), so the judge looks the answer up in a table provided by the legislature. Here is the Washington state statute, which also grants limited permission to deviate from the norms (and a long list of justifications, i.e. mitigating circumstances). First degree homicide is subject to a mandatory minimum prison term of 20 years, but second degree murder is not subject to that minimum. Under the statutory guidelines, a second degree murder conviction would be subject to imprisonment, unless the mitigating circumstances statute held.