Crime Victims and the Right to Punishment

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Abstract

In this paper, I consider the question of whether crime victims can be said to have a moral right to see their victimizers punished (a “right to punishment”) that could explain why they often feel wronged or cheated when the state fails to punish offenders (or even to make such conduct punishable). In the first part, I explain what I mean by a “right to punishment” and what it is for such a right to “explain” the frustrated crime victim’s reaction. In the second part, I distinguish such a right from a Lockean-style right to punish, which is also shown incapable of providing the needed explanation. In the third part I argue that it is difficult to identify any benefit such that the right to punishment could plausibly be understood as a right to that benefit. I discuss two main candidates here: (i) the vaguely Hegelian idea that punishment is itself some sort of restitution for the wrong done to the victim; and (ii) the idea, due to Victor Tadros, that punishment is a form of compensation for wrongdoing by contributing indirectly to protecting victims from future harm. In the final section, I suggest instead that the frustrated crime victim’s reaction, when justified, is best explained, not by the violation of any right to punishment, but rather by the state’s failure to treat the victim as an equal.

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  • Philosophy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-81
JournalCriminal Law and Philosophy
Volume13
Issue number1
Early online date2018 Mar 20
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes