Posted on 6/25/18

The Biblical verse from the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament of “an eye for an eye” is often quoted by those demanding justice against a defendant. This call is heard loudly when the defendant is accused of a heinous crime. While American criminal law and punishment is likely based on and closely related to the concept of ‘an eye for an eye,’ in reality the law is not so simple.

There are various other theories given as the basis for criminal punishment. This article discusses a few of those theories.

Financial Crimes

A close look at how the justice system punishes financial crimes seems to get away from the eye for an eye theory. Punishment meted out against those who commit such crimes are often parallel to punishment for second degree murder.

Similarly, drug crimes have stiff punishments for offenders, especially for those who deal the drugs. While the Texas Criminal Code has a punishment regimen for drug users, the criminal justice system is more devoted to catching drug dealers. A person who grows cannabis in his apartment faces stiff penalties and may be facing years behind bars. This is applicable even if the accused never sold anything.

Vigilante Justice

Some commentators apply a vigilante justice theory as the purpose of criminal punishment. That is to say, it is important for the justice system to mete out punishment against a criminal, or else the people would take justice into their own hands. A vigilante justice scheme would be chaotic due to the lack of oversight of a mob and the abstract nature of the punishment. People taking justice into their own hands would lead to an uncontrolled mob. There would be no logical rhyme or reason to punishments.

According to this theory, punishing financial and drug crimes in draconian ways makes sense. The lack of stiff fines for stealing and drug possession would lead to mobs taking over the streets. The criminal justice system, as it is currently constructed, removes the need for mass vigilante justice.

Another theory offered by commentators is the theory of deterrence. As the saying goes, “You do the crime, you do the time.” A criminal justice system that punishes offenders sends the message that non-compliance with the law has a severe price.

This theory explains the draconian judgment against perpetrators of financial and drug crimes. Because of the far-reaching nature and lack of oversight with respect to financial crimes, punishment is harsh. It is easy, especially for someone holding money for a third party, to steal or commit other crimes with that money. Therefore, a strong deterrent is in order.

Similarly, cutting the supply at its retail source for drug dealers reduces the amount of availability of such drugs. Therefore, perhaps, harsh punishment is proper.

Accused of a crime? Speak with the criminal defense law firm of Christopher Abel.

(image courtesy of Eric Ward)

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