Understanding deterrence

Dudley Sharp
 
There are many misconceptions regarding deterrence.
 
No matter the level of violent crime, be it high or low, legal sanctions deter some from committing crimes( 1).
 
All prospects of a negative outcome deter some. It is a truism. The death penalty, the most severe of criminal sanctions, is the least likely of all criminal sanctions to violate that truism.
 
Based upon some recent deterrence studies, even “heat of the moment” murders can be prevented by deterrence (2).
 
This is not surprising. No matter how excited or enraged, most of us bring ourselves back from that abyss, to a more sensible approach. One reason for that is deterrence, either thougtful or instinctive.
 
Most criminals do think about things. That is why, before their crimes, the usually choose locations other than police stations to commit their crimes. Criminals nearly always use some form of stealth before and during the crime, to avoid witnesses and to lower the probability of being caught, just as they use such stealth to withdraw after the crime.
 
We all know this to be true.
 
Such is based upon a fear of being apprehended. There is no fear of being caught unless there is a fear of sanction.  We all know this to be true. Only sanction can put fear into being caught.
 
Even serial murderers care greatly about avoiding detection and apprehension. Of course, murderers are not deterred from committing all murders, but they, like nearly all criminals, understand sanctions and try to avoid them and are, therefore, deterred from some murders.
 
No, serial murderers are not deterred from committing murder, but they do tell us that they fear sanction and therefore, we all see their efforts at trying to avoid detection, even to the point that the will not murder under some circumstances, for fear of detection.
 
Virtually all serial murderers and other murderers tell us that they fear the sanction of execution far more than they fear the sanction of life imprisonment. The evidence is clear, in pre trial, trial and appeals. About 99.9% of death penalty eligible murderers show that they prefer a life sentence, fearing execution more than life.
 
It is reasonable to conclude that just as murderers fear execution, far more than life imprisonment, that more reasoned folks, those potential murderers, who choose not to murder,  also share that universal degree of fears. Murderers, like the rest of us, prefer life over death and fear death more than life.
 
We do not execute or impose other sanctions based upon deterrence. We must base sanctions on them being a just and appropriate response to the crimes committed, the same foundation of support used for all criminal sanctions.
 
The reason for sanction is justice. Deterrence is a secondary reason for and a beneficial by-product of all sanctions, inclusive of the death penalty. 
 
Some more corrections.
 
Executions do not make murderers of us all, any more than incarceration makes all of us kidnappers or the imposition of fines makes us all robbers (3)
 
If you are amoral or immoral, you can equate executions and murder. However, if you know the moral distinctions between crime and punishment, criminals and their innocent victims, then you cannot equate executions and murder. (3)
 
Some believe that executions create martyrs. Untrue.  It is the living who decide those that shall become martyrs. Those who choose that murderers are martyrs are foul, indeed.
 
There are obvious moral, factual and legal differences between revenge and retributive justice. In fact, the foundations for creating criminal justice systems was to take revenge out of the system and replace it with a system of justice based in law. (4)
 
 
(1) “Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let’s be clear”
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/03/death-penalty-deterrence-murder-rates.html
 
(2) 25 recent studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation
http://www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPDeterrence.htm
 
(3) “Killing equals Killing: The Amoral Confusion of Death Penalty Opponents”
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/02/01/murder-and-execution–very-distinct-moral-differences–new-mexico.aspx
 

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