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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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Undertaking at-sea trials of the chosen deterrent method to determine its effectiveness
There is, therefore, a genuine question over whether, if the UK's foreign policy ever ventured far from that of the USA, the UK's nuclear deterrent would still be available or would the US simply pull the plug?
"So we're very, very clear - having a nuclear deterrent is a very important part of our defence policy.
Meantime, Professor Jones has written an excellent description of Britain's quest for a sovereign and independent strategic nuclear deterrent. Completely mastering his sources, Jones has produced a compelling work of lasting significance.
No-one would want to see that happen, but a deterrent has to be powerful enough for it not to be worthwhile breaking the rules, and surely the knowledge that disqualification is a genuine possibility is the only approach that will work.
This stern punishment served as an effective deterrent as no child was reportedly molested and murdered in the next decade or so.
The BIO-MD prodrug abuse deterrent and MPAR overdose resistant pain platforms, with worldwide intellectual patent protection, eliminate the ability to abuse opioid products by the non-oral route.
A party source said: "Trident will be renewed come what may, continuous at-sea deterrent."
Having established a preliminary, sea-based arm of its nuclear deterrent, Pakistan Navy has unveiled a Very Low Frequency (VLF) communication facility.
But the Dolphins apparently play a much larger role in Israel's self-defense plans; reports indicate that they will carry a portion of Israel's nuclear deterrent, in the form of nuclear-armed, submarine-launched cruise missiles.
For the time being, the east and west and South Zagros oil and gas exploitation companies are using the deterrent. The East oil and gas exploitation company is annually using about 113 of the deterrent - the foreign-made one.
Britain was forced to base its nuclear deterrent on the Clyde so that American sailors could enjoy nights out in nearby Glasgow.