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February 21, 20131 response
December 6, 20121 response
One straightforward way to see that this is not so starts from the realization that the criminal law cannot perfectly anticipate all realistically possible cases. This is so for at least three reasons. First, human powers of anticipation are limited. Second, a criminal law doing justice to all realistically possible cases would be too complex for citizens and officials to comprehend. Third, such a criminal law would also be impossible to administer fairly because it would give criminals too many opportunities to escape punishment. Example: recognizing a rare, morally valid excuse in the law might be a bad idea if the absence of this excuse is very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
We can expect, then, that in some cases punishments warranted under even the best-designed and -administered criminal law are excessive. In those cases, at least, mercy would not be unjust. For example, we may pardon an offender because we are convinced that he has a morally valid excuse that the law, for good reasons, fails to recognize (i.e., does not allow judges and juries to take into account).
November 1, 20121 response
August 23, 20121 response
July 26, 20121 response
Nicholas D. Smith
I think so. After all, even if remorse is not an absolute guarantee that the remorseful person won't repeat his/her wrongdoing, it is at least a positive indicator.
There are several theories of punishment and so the very idea of parole will vary under different theories. For example, in a retributive theory, the main question will be whether the criminal has "paid his/her debt to society," and it would seem that, strictly speaking, this could simply be a matter of doing the time in prison or whatever. On the other hand, I don't see why a retributivist couldn't think that part of the appropriate "price" includes feelings of remorse. In a social protection theory, the goal is simply to make sure the criminal is no longer a threat. It would seem that his or her feelings of remorse would be at least one useful indicator of whether he or she continued to pose a threat of the relevant sort. The same goes for a rehabilitative theory, where remorse might reasonably be taken as an indication off rehabilitation. For the theory that punishment is supposed to deter crime, however, it is not clear to me where the notion of parole would come in at all, in which case the question is moot under this theory--though I am probably missing something here.
Anyway, the point is that under most general theories of punishment--or at least those that see a role for the practice of parole--there is some reason to see remorse as a relevant and positive factor in favor of parole, though it would not be the only relevant consideration, I think.
January 18, 20121 response
I'm a little unclear on the question -- sounds like you think life in prison is better than death (for the convicted person, anyway), given your list of good things that life in prison allows (but death doesn't). So you already do think the death penalty is worse for the convict than life in prison?
Or are you (implicitly) arguing against the death penalty, by arguing that it's not worse than life imprisonment, and therefore there is no reason to apply it to the worst criminals?
In any case, one consideration that it's worse for the convict to receive death is simply that very many convicted persons simply don't want the death penalty; lots of people are terrified of being killed, and that terror alone makes the prospect of death seem far worse than life imprisonment. (Of course you might argue that this is an irrational fear, but that then takes you off into all sorts of other issues and directions ....)
And if the ultimate concern is whether our society should allow the death penalty, it's worth mentioning that there are many other things in play in addition to 'how bad is death v. life in prison for the convict' -- including issues of justice, of fairness, of the rights of the victims (and victims' families), etc....
Hope that's useful--
September 22, 20111 response
September 9, 20111 response
August 25, 20111 response
August 4, 20111 response
Nicholas D. Smith
I don't think there is a hard-and-fast rule to give here. Do you call the cops when you see your kid litter? Of course not! Just make them pick it up and give them a good lecture about why that is unacceptable behavior. But if you see them commit murder? Well, yes, then it seems appropriate. If I caught one of my children shoplifting, I would try to come up with a way to make them repay the store--but I don't think I would be supportive if people at the store gave me an indication that they aggressively prosecute every case of shoplifting.
I think our responsibilities change in different relationships. I would also try to "correct" minor misdemeanors (like littering) when done by friends or more distant family members. The worse the crime, the more it seems to me to call for a legal report. But I think we are, in a way, much more responsible for the behavior of our minor children than we are after they have reached the age of majority, and we are much less responsible for distant relatives, acquaintances, and the like. So my own culpability in failing to report some law-breaking is relative to the degree of my responsibility for the behavior of that other person.
Do I call in every case I see of someone speeding past me on the freeway? No. That's not my responsibility. But if I see evidence that they are seriously impaired in some way (weaving dangerously, etc.), well, yes, I would call that in.
I think the only good advice I have to give here, beyond such rules of thumb, is that you exercise the best judgment of your own level of responsibility (to the criminal, to his or her victims, and to your fellow citizens) and of what you can do that is most likely to provide the best available resolution to the situation.
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