Justice - Theories of Sentencing

Theories of Sentencing

In criminal law, a sentence forms the final explicit act of a judge-ruled process, and also the symbolic principal act connected to his function. The sentence can generally involve a decree of imprisonment, a fine and/or other punishments against a defendant convicted of a crime. Laws may specify the range of penalties that can be imposed for various offenses, and sentencing guidelines sometimes regulate what punishment within those ranges can be imposed given a certain set of offense and offender characteristics. The most common purposes of sentencing in legal theory are:

Theory Aim of theory Suitable punishment
Retribution Punishment imposed for no reason other than an offense being committed, on the basis that if proportionate, punishment is morally acceptable as a response that satisfies the aggrieved party, their intimates and society.
  • Tariff sentences
  • Sentence must be proportionate to the crime
Deterrence
  • To the individual - the individual is deterred through fear of further punishment.
  • To the general public - Potential offenders warned as to likely punishment
  • Prison Sentence
  • Heavy Fine
  • Long sentence as an example to others
Rehabilitation To reform the offender's behavior
  • Individualized sentences
  • Community service orders
Incapacitation Offender is made incapable of committing further crime to protect society at large from crime
  • Long prison sentence
  • Electronic tagging
  • Banning orders
Reparation Repayment to victim(s) or to community
  • Compensation
  • Unpaid work
  • Reparation Schemes
Denunciation Society expressing its disapproval reinforcing moral boundaries
  • Reflects blameworthiness of offense

In civil cases the decision is usually known as a verdict, or judgment, rather than a sentence. Civil cases are settled primarily by means of monetary compensation for harm done ("damages") and orders intended to prevent future harm (for example injunctions). Under some legal systems an award of damages involves some scope for retribution, denunciation and deterrence, by means of additional categories of damages beyond simple compensation, covering a punitive effect, social disapprobation, and potentially, deterrence, and occasionally disgorgement (forfeit of any gain, even if no loss was caused to the other party).

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