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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 ?
At the conclusion of this presentation, you will have received a primer on counterfeiting and how you can assist in detection and deterence.
But he has been reluctant to make certain 'concessions', such as on the CTBT, agree to certain realistic adjustments on an aggressive posture in foreign policy and take some manageable measures to contain the freedom of movement of our holy warriors or maintaining a minimum deterence and a total roll-back.
The 2000 edition includes new information on the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act, the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, the Patent and Trademark Fee Fairness Act, the First Inventor Defense Act, the Patent Term Guarantee Act, the Domestic Publication of Foreign Filed Patent Application Act, the Optional Inter Partes Reexamination Procedure Act, the Trademark Amendments Act, the digital Theft Deterence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act and the Patent and Trademark Office Efficiency Act, all of which were adopted in 1999.
1]) will provide society no additional deterence benefits to society.