Select Page

Criminal Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Thai, Joseph

 I.                  Principles of punishment
                  A.                        Theories
                                     1.                              General
                                                       a.                                    Kent Greenawalt (Punishment):
                                                                           i.                                          Punishment in some cases is a practical necessity for any system in which threats of punishment are to be taken seriously; and to that extent, the justification of punishment is inseparable from the justification of threats of punishment.
                                                                         ii.                                          The dominant approaches to justification (for punishment) are retributive and utilitarian. 
                                                                                           1.                                                Retributivist: claims that punishment is justified because people deserve it. It is based on the principle that people who commit crimes deserve punishment (backward looking)
                                                                                           2.                                                Utilitarian: believes that justification lies in the useful purposes that punishment serves. It is based on the sense that punishment is justified on the basis of the supposed benefits that will accrue from its imposition (forward looking)
                                                                        iii.                                          Notes: Greenawalt notes 3 questions that retributivists and utilitarians seek to answer (shortened to 2):
                                                                                           1.                                                What is the general justifying aim of the criminal justice system? And
                                                                                           2.                                                To whom may punishment be applied and in what manner and amount? 
                                                                       iv.                                          Characteristics of punishment:
                                                                                           1.                                                Performed by, and directed at agents who are responsible
                                                                                           2.                                                It involves harmful or unpleasant consequences
                                                                                           3.                                                The unpleasant consequences usually are preceded by judgment of condemnation.
                                                                                           4.                                                It is imposed by one who has authority to do so
                                                                                           5.                                                It is imposed for a breach of some established rule of behavior
                                                                                           6.                                                It is imposed on an actual or supposed violator of the rule of behavior
                                     2.                              Utilitarian Justifications
                                                       a.                                    Pain and pleasure. Punish for deterrence (specific and general). Goal is maximum pleasure.
                                                      b.                                    Jeremy Bentham
                                                                           i.                                          Pleasures, and the avoidance of pains are the ends which the legislator has in view. Pleasures and pains are the instruments he has to work with.   It behooves him to understand their value and force.
                                                                         ii.                                          The value of a pleasure or pain considered by itself, will be greater or less, according to the 4 circumstances:
                                                                                           1.                                                Its intensity
                                                                                           2.                                                Its duration
                                                                                           3.                                                Its certainty or uncertainty
                                                                                           4.                                                Its propinquity or remoteness
                                                                        iii.                                          All punishment is mischief. Upon the priciple of utility, if it ought to be admitted it should only be admitted in as far as it promises to exclude some greater evil.
                                                                       iv.                                          Punishment shouldn’t be inflicted when it is:
                                                                                           1.                                                Groundless, inefficacious, unprofitable, too expensive, needless
                                                       c.                                    Kent Greenawalt
                                                                           i.                                          In modern usage, utilitarianism is often employed to refer broadly to theories that likely consequences determine the morality of action.
                                                                         ii.                                          Catalogs of beneficial consequences of punishment:
                                                                                           1.                                                General deterrence
                                                                                                             a.                                                      Knowledge that punishment will follow crime deters people from committing crimes, reducing future violations of right and the unhappiness and insecurity they would cause
                                                                                                            b.                                                      With a properly developed penal code, the benefits to be gained from criminal activity would be outweighed by the harms of punishment, even when those harms were discounted by the probability of avoiding detection
                                                                                           2.                                                Individual deterrence
                                                                                                             a.                                                      The actual imposition of punishment creates fear in the offender that if he repeats his act, he will be punished again.
                                                                                                            b.                                                      To deter an offender from repeating his actions, a penalty should be severe enough to outweigh in his mind the benefits of the crime. For the utilitarian, more severe punishment of repeat offenders is warranted partly because the first penalty has shown itself ineffective from the standpoint of individual deterrence
                                                                                           3.                                                Incarcerating more people for longer terms is sometimes justified by the fact that incarcerated people can’t commit crimes while in prison (specific deterrence), and the increased likelihood of long sentences will dissuade others (general deterrence)
                                                                        iii.                                          Incapacitation and other forms of risk management
                                                                                           1.                                                Physically taking criminals out of circulation, or requiring supervision, drug tests, etc.
                                                                       iv.                                          Reform
                                                                                           1.                                                Punishment may help reform the criminal to be more happy and useful
                                                                                                             a.                                                      Reform is usually conceived a

        a.                                    The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens: castaways killed and ate a fellow castaway out of desperation. Court said necessity is no defense against murder
                                                                           i.                                          The act isn’t just what merits the punishment, but also the motive/intent/thoughts
                                                                         ii.                                          Punish because: morally reprehensible, socially undesirable.
                                     2.                              Sentencing systems:
                                                       a.                                    Indeterminate. A sentencing system is sometimes described as indeterminate if trial judges have broad sentencing discretion. The judge and not the legislature sets the appropriate punishment for each offender w/in very broad legislative imposed parameters. The purest version of indeterminate sentencing, the judge imposes an indeterminate sentence. The D doesn’t know how long he will be incarcerated, except w/in the broad parameters of the indeterminate sentence.
                                                      b.                                    Determinate. Many states and fed. Courts have shifted toward a more determinate system. In some determinate sentencing jurisdictions, the legislature sets a specific sentence for each crime, although sometimes permitting a specified higher or lower sentence if specific aggravating or mitigating circumstances are proven. The convicted D goes to prison knowing exactly how long he will be incarcerated. Parole boards do not exist in these jurisdictions. 
                                                       c.                                    Other jurisdictions have enacted determinate sentencing programs through a system of sentencing guidelines rather than fixed sentences. In 1984 Congress enacted the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.   They were mandatory, but were held unconstitutional and are now only advisory.
                                                      d.                                    An increasingly common legislative method for limiting judicial sentencing discretion is to enact mandatory min sentencing statutes. Such statutes provide that when a specified circumstance exists in connection w/ the commission of a crime, the judge is compelled to sentence the D to a prison sentence substantially longer than would otherwise be required.
                  C.                        Proportionality of Punishment (slides 3)
                                     1.                              General Principles
                                                       a.                                    Kant continued:
                                                                           i.                                          The undeserved evil which any one commits on another is to be regarded as perpetrated on himself. This is the right of retaliation and properly understood, it is the only principle which in regulating a public court, as distinguished from a private judgment can definitely assign both the quality and quantity of a just penalty
                                                                         ii.                                          Whoever has committed murder must die. 
                                                      b.                                    Bentham continued:
                                                                           i.                                          Punishment serves to prevent, to manage that no offense whatsoever may be committed.