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Two Cheers for Vindictiveness

NCJ Number
Punishment and Society Volume: 2 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2000 Pages: 131-143
Jeffrie G. Murphy
Date Published
April 2000
13 pages
This article specifies controls for vindictiveness (the desire for revenge) in the application of criminal law, but also expresses some sympathy and understanding for victims' vindictive passions as well.
Most argue that vindictiveness is irrational or immoral or both, and others argue that vindictiveness, whatever its intrinsic merits, has no legitimate place within the law. Vindictiveness is not inherently rational, however, because it is instinctively normal to strike out at someone who has injured you, particularly when that injury has been intentional. The vindictive victim wants to inflict injury on the perpetrator, and in doing so will probably feel better; therefore, it is not inherently self-defeating. There is danger, however, in allowing vindictive passions to find instrumentality in the law. Victim impact statements, for example, are designed to give victims a voice in how those who victimized them have injured them, with a view toward determining the nature of the punishment the law should dispense. The danger of such a practice is that victims who are articulate, persuasive, and determined to wreak vengeance will have a greater impact on sentencing than persons who are less articulate or who are not committed to a punitive response to the perpetrator. Another danger of vengeance is that it views the offender as one-dimensional, i.e., as totally evil. If rehabilitation is to have any place in the justice system, there must be a recognition that there is in perpetrators of crime a capacity to think and behave morally. 21 notes and 20 references