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Punishing the Guilty, Not Punishing the Innocent

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Chapter Summary

This chapter begins by reviewing the grounds for believing that punishment of the innocent is something that people should strongly seek to avoid. It then demonstrates how non-punishment of the guilty is also quite undesirable, whether one favors a retributive account of punishment or a crime reduction account. The chapter argues that standard penal theories appear incapable of justifying the strong degree of preference for non-punishment of the guilty to punishment of the innocent that William Blackstone's adage recommends. If such theories are understood as normative models for the design of institutions of criminal justice, then they do not support setting up such institutions to strongly favor non-punishment of the guilty to punishment of the innocent. The chapter also shows how the most salient features of contemporary criminal justice systems can be interpreted as attempts to achieve and maintain such a balance.

Keywords: criminal justice systems; guilty person; innocent person; punishment; standard penal theories; William Blackstone



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