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Victims: Private Vengeance (From Morality and the Law, P 107-118, 2001, Roslyn Muraskin and Matthew Muraskin, eds. -- See NCJ-193090)

NCJ Number
Meredith George Eichenberg
Date Published
12 pages
This chapter explores the ethical arguments for and against personal revenge by victims for crimes against them and concludes with an ethical analysis of participative retribution, the concept of permitting victims and their families to participate in the justice process.
A review of the practice of revenge in an ethical-historic context includes the tracing of the evolution from private vengeance to public justice, the movement from the divine right of God alone to administer justice to the constitutional authority of the state to avenge wrongs against individual citizens, and current perspectives on personal vengeance in modern America. This chapter advises that in order for a compromise to be achieved between private and governmental vengeance, American society must back away from the current overuse of coercive justice. To do this, government must abdicate some of its monopoly on vengeance. Without permitting an unbridled exercise of personal vengeance by crime victims, this can be done by giving individual victims the right to participate in the retributive process within guidelines set by the state. Participative retribution most commonly takes the form of the use of victim impact statements for prosecutorial and administrative decision making. This would include sentencing, parole, and perhaps classification or assignment of inmates within the system. Less common, but becoming more frequent are the practices of permitting victims or their families to address the convicted offender either immediately prior to or after sentencing, as well as allowing the families of murder victims to witness the execution of the murderer of a family member. 16 references