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Informing Juries of Punishment

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by: Abassos • March 2, 2010 • no comments

You should read this article by Jeffrey Bellin, an assistant professor at SMU's law school. It first reviews the growing movement to reform the criminal justice system so juries know what the punishment will be if they find the defendant guilty. Interesting stuff by itself. But then Prof. Bellin proposes a brilliant argument that hadn't occurred to me: evidence that a penalty is particularly harsh ought to be admissibile under an anti-motive theory. We take it for granted that prosecutors are able to get in evidence that the defendant had a motive to commit the crime. So why shouldn't we be able to enter evidence that the defendant had a motive not to commit the crime. E.g.: "It's a mandatory 90 months in prison - why on earth would he take that risk?" This is a particularly compelling point of entry because the single biggest argument for harsh punishment is deterrence. That is, people out there will know about the penalties and be dissuaded from committing the crime because of the harshness of the penalty. Exactly the argument for admissibility of the anti-motive. The more I think about it the more I like it. And there's little to lose by trying.

h/t Sentencing Law and Policy for pointing me to the paper.