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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 ?
The strategic bomber has enjoyed a unique position within the nuclear triad and US deterrence efforts precisely because it was the first (and still the only) delivery method that has been used.
Deterrence prevents adversary action through the presentation of a credible threat of counteraction.
Fragile peace in the meantime, he believed, would be maintained through defense and deterrence postures.
Credible deterrence requires effective command, control and communication (C3) system, higher accuracy of delivery vehicles and incorporation of strategic forces in military doctrines.
Pope John Paul II, for example, said in a message to the United Nations in June 1982 that deterrence could be judged "morally acceptable" as "a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament.
Then, we exploit the theory developed in Bernheim (1984), where the definition of deterrence investment is intentionally ambiguous so as to abstract from the complex issues that arise with particular theories of entry deterrence and to focus on the fundamental trade-off that the incumbent faces.
Is this nuclear deterrence brought a leverage to make the world listen to him so carefully?
TOKYO, Nov 17 (KUNA) -- South Korea and the US started talks on Thursday to establish a high-level consultative body for devising extended deterrence strategies against North Korea's nuclear threat, the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency reported.
Clinicians trying to understand these products are going to have to get used to hearing about likability studies and other types of evaluations that measure the efficacy of deterrence," reported Jeffrey A.
Naval War College uses wargaming to help measure factors associated with strategic deterrence decisionmaking by emulating notional crises between nuclear-capable adversaries.
It was an imbalance in the conventional power that forced Pakistan to see nuclear weapons' capability, as a deterrence against India, after the war of 1971 that resulted in separation of former East Pakistan.
He is absolutely correct that it is NATO which, militarily, has been the primary deterrence against Russian military aggression for over half a century.