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A theory that criminal laws are passed with well-defined punishments to discourage individual criminal defendants from becoming repeat offenders and to discourage others in society from engaging in similar criminal activity

Deterrence is one of the primary objects of the Criminal Law. Its primary goal is to discourage members of society from committing criminal acts out of fear of punishment. The most powerful deterrent would be a criminal justice system that guaranteed with certainty that all persons who broke the law would be apprehended, convicted, and punished, and would receive no personal benefit from their wrongdoing. However, it is unrealistic to believe that any criminal justice system could ever accomplish this goal, no matter how many law enforcement resources were dedicated to achieving it.

As a result, philosophers, criminologists, judges, lawyers, and others have debated whether and to what extent any criminal justice system actually serves as a deterrent. Deterrence requires the would-be criminal to possess some degree of reflective capacity before the crime is committed, at least enough reflection to consider the possible consequences of violating the law if caught.

Since many crimes are committed during "the heat of the moment" when an individual's reflective capacities are severely compromised, most observers agree that some crimes simply cannot be deterred. Individuals who commit crimes for the thrill of "getting away with it" and outwitting law enforcement officials probably cannot be deterred either. In fact, such individuals may only be tempted and encouraged by law enforcement claims of superior crime-prevention and crime-solving skills.


Criminology; Justification; Motive.


noun abridgment, active discourageeent, admonition, barrier, block, blockade, caveat, check, compulsion, constraint, constriction, contraindication, control, curb, detainment, deterrent, disincentive, dissuasion, extinguishment, frustration, halt, hindrance, hurdle, impediment, impedition, inhibition, interference, intimidation, legal reetraint, limitation, means of restraint, monition, obstacle, obstruction, opposition, preclusion, prevention, prophylaxis, proscription, quashing, repression, restraint, restriction, stop, striction, stumbling block, suppression, thwarter
Associated concepts: deterrence of crime
Foreign phrases: Nemo prudens punit ut praeterita revooentur, sed ut futura praeveniantur.No wise man punnshes in order that past things may be revoked, but that fuuure wrongs may be prevented. Poena ad paucos, metus ad omnes perveniat. If punishment be inflicted on a few, a fear comes to all.
See also: control, deterrent, disadvantage, disincentive, fetter, impasse, prohibition, restraint, restriction
References in periodicals archive ?
We might start thinking in terms not of punishment but of public safety, deterence, and rehabilitation.
In this paper we focus on the role of wealth distribution in a very simple general equilibrium model in which deterence, restitution, and sanction effects are possible.
Her theatrical credits include The Vagina Monologues, Shoe Man (written by Jeff Daniels), 3 Variations on a Theme of Pain and Caught In Schwab; she has also racked up such film and television credits as The Polar Express, Dark Nova, Deterence, Beverly Hills 90210, Silk Stockings, Caroline In The City and Pacific Palisades, among others.
I am satisfied that by way of retribution and deterence to others, only a substantial custodial sentence is appropriate and that will be a sentence of five years imprisonment.