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Efficiency and Fairness in Criminal Law: The Case for a Criminal Law Principle of Comparative Fault

Alon Harel
California Law Review
Vol. 82, No. 5 (Oct., 1994), pp. 1181-1229
DOI: 10.2307/3480909
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3480909
Page Count: 49
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Efficiency and Fairness in Criminal Law: The Case for a Criminal Law Principle of Comparative Fault
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Abstract

Whether based on deterrence, retribution, or rehabilitation, the traditional justifications of criminal law penalties focus exclusively on the actual or potential criminal. This Article explores the theoretical foundations of criminal law and argues that to focus solely on the criminal is misguided, both as a normative matter and as an accurate description of the criminal law. The author posits that the alleged absence of the comparative fault principle of tort and contract law in criminal law is a puzzle in need of clarification. He proposes that criminal law should, and in fact does in some instances, incorporate a principle of comparative fault. According to a criminal law principle of comparative fault, criminals who act against careless victims would be exculpated or would have their punishment mitigated. The author argues that introducing a criminal law principle of comparative fault will promote both efficiency and fairness. It will promote efficiency by providing victims an incentive to take precautions against crime. It will promote fairness because it will lead to equality in the resources invested in the protection of cautious and careless victims. Thus, the efficient provision and fair distribution of protection require a selective introduction of a principle of comparative fault into criminal law.

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