Commentators have contested the role of resulting harm in criminal law since the time of Plato. Unfortunately, they have neglected what may be not only the best discussion of the issue, but also the first - namely, Plato's one-paragraph discussion in the "Laws." Plato's discussion succeeds in reconciling two, seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints that till now have been in stalemate. Thus, Plato reconciles the view, that an offender's desert is solely a function of his subjective willingness to act in disregard of (...) the legitimate interests of others, with the view that criminal sentences can appropriately be made to depend upon how indignant, angry, and upset society is at an offender based upon the results of his culpable conduct. In doing so, Plato casts light on retributive theories of punishment by suggesting that an adjudicator can be committed to retribution and yet rightly believe that it is inappropriate to give an offender the full punishment he deserves. He also lays a basis for the view that causation, rather being predicates for the just punishment of offenders toward whom the public is intuitively angry for harm, is the consequence of the public's being intuitively angry at offenders for harm. (shrink)
Courts and commentators have struggled for years to identify rules to explain and justify certain widely-shared intuitions about impossibility attempts, and they have proposed rules variously based upon (1) what mistakes actors make, (2) what intentions actors possess, and (3) what conduct actors perform. None of the proposals fully succeeds, however, and none is able to explain the widely-shared intuition, which underlies Sandy Kadish's inventive hypothetical regarding Mr. Law and Mr. Fact, that some attempts based upon mistakes of law are (...) just as blameworthy as attempts based upon mistakes of fact. I propose an alternative rule that, I believe, not only explains where and why people possess widely-shared intuitions regarding impossibility attempts (including regarding Mr. Law and Mr. Fact), but also explains where and why people have conflicting intuitions. I argue that widely-shared intuitions of blameworthiness and non-blameworthiness regarding impossibility attempts are a function, respectively, of whether informed citizens of the jurisdiction that enacted the statutory offense that the defendant allegedly attempted to commit widely believe or disbelieve that he would have been a threat to interests that the statute seeks to protect - a determination, in turn, that is a function of whether they widely believe or disbelieve that he would have committed the offense under counterfactual circumstances that they fear could have obtained. (shrink)
Criminal law commonly requires judges and juries to decide whether defendants acted reasonably. Nevertheless, issues of reasonableness fall into two distinct categories: (1) where reasonableness concerns events and states, including risks of which an actor is conscious, that can be justly assessed without regard to the actorâs individual traits, and (2) where reasonableness concerns culpable mental states and emotions that cannot justly be assessed without reference to the actorâs capacities. This distinction is significant because, while the reasonable person by which (...) category-1 cases are assessed is a disembodied and impersonal ideal that consists of nothing but the uncompromising values of the jurisdiction, the reasonable person by which category-2 cases are measured must necessarily incorporate some of an actorâs individual traits or risk blaming the blameless. Courts and commentators have thus far approached the task of individualizing or subjectivizing reasonableness in category 2 by trying to determine in advance which individual traits are generally relevant and which are not. I propose an alternative approach that, in addition to applying to negligence and voluntary manslaughter cases alike, derives its content from the social practice of blaming. I propose that a reasonable person in category-2 cases consists of every physical, psychological, and emotional trait an actor possesses, with one exceptionâthe exception being that he possesses proper respect for the values of the people of the state as reflected and incorporated in the statute at hand. (shrink)
The doctrine of transferred intent (or transferred “malice” in England) generally provides that if A attempts to harm B but, because of bad aim, misses and accidentally causes the same harm to befall C, A’s harmful intent vis-à-vis B is transferred to C, thus rendering A guilty of intentionally harming C. Commentators acknowledge the doctrine to be a legal fiction, but they differ regarding whether the fiction produces just results, some believing it does, others believing that A is guilty at (...) most of attempting to harm B rather than intentionally harming C. Commentators who agree that the fiction produces just results nevertheless differ regarding whether the fiction should be retained or whether A’s intent to harm “a” person, in this case, B, is the only intent that signifies for crimes of intentional harm, regardless of whom A eventually harms. Doug Husak sought to achieve reflective equilibrium between intuition and theory regarding bad-aim cases by proposing in 1996 that A be punished for attempting to harm B (rather than for harming C) but sentenced as if he had harmed B. I once believed that Husak was correct. But I now have doubts, in part because Husak, along with others, cannot explain why the strength of people’s intuitions regarding A’s responsibility in bad-aim cases depends upon (1) C’s being a reasonably foreseeable victim, and (2) C’s being harmed by the same threat of force that A initially unleashed against B. I argue that one cannot achieve reflective equilibrium in bad-aim cases without inquiring into why resulting harm matters in criminal law, and that when one does, one discovers that just as people’s intuitions regarding whether intentional harms are proximate depend upon how resulting harms occur, so, too, people’s intuitions regarding whether an actor is guilty of intentional harm depend upon how resulting harm comes about. (shrink)
Criminal law scholars approach legality in various ways. Some scholars eschew over-arching principles and proceed directly to one or more distinct “rules”: (1) the rule against retroactive criminalization; (2) the rule that criminal statutes be construed narrowly; (3) the rule against the judicial creation of common-law offenses; and (4) the rule that vague criminal statutes are void. Other scholars seek a single principle, i.e., the “principle of legality,” that they claim underlies the four rules. In contrast, I believe that both (...) approaches are misguided. There is no such thing as a single “principle of legality;” yet, the four aforementioned rules are not unrelated to each other. The so-called “principle of legality” consists of two distinct norms that derive, respectively, from two fundamental principles of criminal justice, viz., the principle, “No person shall be punished in the absence of a bad mind,” and the principle that underlies the maxim, “Every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.” The first norm of legality explains the rules regarding ex post facto legislation, and rules regarding “notice” and “fair warning” of judicial decisions. When a person is punished for violating a rule that was non-existent or unclear at the time he acted, he is punished for conduct that the state now condemns and seeks to prevent by means of penal sanctions. Accordingly, at the time the person is prosecuted, his claim is not that he did not do anything that the state regards as wrong, but, rather, that he neither knew nor should have known that he was doing something that the state would come to regard as wrong. He ought, indeed, to be excused for his mistake, but only because of a principle that is common to excuses generally: “No person ought to be punished in the absence of a guilty mind.” He should be excused because even when a person does something the state condemns and seeks to prevent, he ought not to be blamed for it unless he was motivated in a certain way, namely, by an attitude of disrespect for the legitimate interests of the political community by whose norms he is bound.The second norm of legality informs several of the remaining rules, though not all of them. The second norm is that a person ought not to be punished in the name of a political community unless it can confidently be said that the community officially regards his conduct as warranting the criminal punishment at issue. It is a norm that is most commonly associated with the rule of lenity, but it is not confined to the construction of statutes that are ambiguous or vague. It can also be also violated when a person is punished for violating a statute that has fallen into desuetude, regardless of how widely promulgated or narrowly defined the statute may be. This second norm derives from a principle that also underlies the presumption of innocence - the only difference being that the presumption of innocence is a preference for acquittal in the event of uncertainty regarding the facts which an actor is charged, while the second norm of legality is a preference for acquittal in the event of uncertainty regarding the scope of the offense which he is charged.Nevertheless, one “rule” remains that this analysis throws into question - namely, the rule that “vague” criminal statutes are void. Criminal statutes are sometimes so broadly defined that they do, indeed, infringe constitutionally protected rights of speech, movement, etc. - in which event they ought to be invalidated on those very grounds. And criminal statutes are sometimes so broadly drafted that, before applying them, courts ought to construe them to apply only to constitutionally unprotected acts that courts can confidently say the relevant political community regards as warranting punishment. But once statutes are so construed to apply only to constitutionally unprotected conduct, courts have no further reason to invalidate them on grounds of “vagueness.” Lack of “notice” is no reason to invalidate them because, with respect to the narrowly defined conduct such statutes are construed to prohibit, “common social duty” alone ought to alert actors that their conduct is suspect. (shrink)
What is the foundation of consent in the criminal law? Classically liberal commentators have offered at least three distinct theories. J.S. Mill contends we value consent because individuals are the best judges of their own interests. Joel Feinberg argues an individual’s consent matters because she has a right to autonomy based on her intrinsic sovereignty over her own life. Joseph Raz also focuses on autonomy, but argues that society values autonomy as a constituent element of individual well-being, which it is (...) the state’s duty to promote. The criminal law’s approach to the problem of non-contemporaneous consent—prospective consent and retrospective consent—casts a unique light on the differences among these three justifications. PeterWesten claims neither Mill’s nor Feinberg’s justifications for consent fully explains how non-contemporaneous consent is treated in the criminal law. Specifically, Mill’s “self-interest” conception explains the criminal law’s limited recognition of prospective consent, but cannot explain its total rejection of retrospective consent. Conversely, Feinberg’s “sovereign autonomy” conception explains why the criminal law rejects retrospective consent, but cannot explain why the law recognizes irrevocable prospective consent only in limited circumstances. I resolve this dilemma by explaining that Raz’s “autonomy is good” conception is consistent with both the criminal law’s limited recognition of irrevocable prospective consent and its total rejection of retrospective consent. This suggests the existing criminal law embodies Raz’s theory that it is the duty of the state to promote morality, in particular the moral good of individual well-being through living autonomously. In contrast, the criminal law’s treatment of consent would have to be modified if it were to reflect Mill’s “self-interest” conception, or Feinberg’s “sovereign autonomy” conception. (shrink)
Larry Alexander and PeterWesten each critically examine different topics from my recent collection of essays, The Philosophy of Criminal Law. Alexander focuses on my “Rapes Without Rapists,” “Mistake of Law and Culpability,” and “Already Punished Enough.” Westen offers a more extended commentary on my “Transferred Intent.” I briefly reply to each critic in turn and try to extend the debates in new directions.
Louis Pojman and Robert Westmorland have compiled the best material on the subject of equality, ranging from classical works by Aristotle, Hobbes and Rousseau to contemporary works by John Rawls, Thomas Nagel, Michael Walzer, Harry Frankfurt, Bernard Williams and Robert Nozick; and including such topics as: the concept of equality; equal opportunity; Welfare egalitarianism; resources; equal human rights and complex equality. -/- CONTENTS: Introduction: The Nature and Value of Equality I. Classical Readings: 1. Aristotle: Justice and Equality 2. Thomas Hobbes: (...) Equality in the State of Nature 3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: On the Origins of Inequality 4. David Hume: On Justice and Equality 5. Francis-Noel Babeuf and Sylvain Marechal: The Manifesto of Equality II. On the concept of Equality Itself 6. Felix E. Oppenheim: Egalitarianism as a Descriptive Concept 7. Dennis McKerlie: Equality and Time 8. Larry Temkin: Inequality III. General Considerations 9. Immanuel Kant: Groundwork for a Metaphysic of Morals 10. Robert Nozick: Justice Does Not Imply Equality 11. J.R. Lucas: Against Equality 12. Stanley I. Benn: Egalitarianism and the Equal Consideration of Interests 13. Gregory Vlastos: Justice and Equality IV. Equal Opportunity 14. John Schaar: Equality of Opportunity and Beyond 15. James Fishkin: Liberty versus Equal Opportunity 16. PeterWesten: the concept of Equal Opportunity 17. Robert Nozick: Life is not a Race 18. William Galston: A Liberal Defense of Equal Opportunity V. The Contemporary Debate on the Nature and Value of Equality 19. John Rawls: Equality and Desert 20. Wallace Matson: Justice: A Funeral Oration 21. Kai Nielson: Radical Welfare Egalitarianism 22. R.M. Hare: A Utilitarian Defense of Equality 23. Richard Arneson: Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare 24. Eric Rakowski: A Critique of Welfare Egalitarianism 25. Thomas Nagel: Equality and Partiality 26. Harry Frankfurt: Equality as a Moral Ideal 27. Eric Rakowski: A Defense of Resource Equality 28. Louis Pojman: On Equal Human Worth: A Critique of Contemporary Egalitarianism 29. Michael Walzer: Complex Equality Appendix 30. Kurt Vonnegut: Harrison Bergeron Bibliography. (shrink)