Criminal Law and Philosophy 15 (3):339-360 (2021)

Douglas Husak
Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Efforts to apply the principle of proportionality to criminal sentences are notoriously problematic. But even though they are daunting, only a few legal philosophers believe we should give up trying to do so. Perhaps we can make progress overcoming some of the many legal difficulties by attending to how the principle is applied in non-legal contexts—that is, in contexts I call personal life. Proportionality, I believe, is an attractive principle in penal sentencing because it is an attractive principle in ordinary situations in which persons are sanctioned for wrongdoing. I briefly mention several familiar non-legal contexts in which sanctions have recently been imposed on celebrities or public figures for real or perceived wrongdoing. My hope is that sensitivity to how the principle of proportionality is interpreted in these contexts might facilitate efforts to apply this principle to sentencing domains. At first glance, proportionality as applied in non-legal contexts appears to differ from its penal analogue. I describe some of these alleged differences. Among the foremost is that judgments of proportionality in personal life often respond to how the transgressor has behaved apart from the particular incident that has attracted media attention. Penal sanctions, by contrast, are said to be imposed only for the particular crime charged. I argue that this difference is more apparent than real. I conclude that we can reach a few modest insights about how to apply the principle of proportionality in criminal sentencing by attending to its counterpart in personal life.
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DOI 10.1007/s11572-021-09562-z
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Moral Rebukes and Social Avoidance.Linda Radzik - 2014 - Journal of Value Inquiry 48 (4):643-661.
An Explanation of Retribution.Andrew Oldenquist - 1988 - Journal of Philosophy 85 (9):464-478.

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