Monday, May 01, 2006


Double Standard in Criminality

There was an interesting article the other day about a new law that attempts to increase the penalties for eco-terrorism. Here's a little bit:

HARRISBURG -- Gov. Ed Rendell has signed into law a bill aimed at protecting farmers, researchers and others from what the bill's sponsor called "environmental extremists."

The law increases penalties for arson, criminal mischief, vandalism, agricultural vandalism, crop destruction and theft aimed at intimidating people who participate in lawful activities involving plants, animals and natural resources.

The law increases the severity of charges for suspects whose crimes involve eco-terrorism.

This is a double standard, making some crimes more "criminal" based on the victim. In some sense, I like this because many law makers have allowed this eco-terrorism to run amuck. Allowing these crimes to exists without proper punishment and emphasis on the violation of private property is inappropriate. However, I do not like the double standars it creates.


The Sierra Club doesn't condone those kinds of activities but says the new law is unnecessary and could chill free speech.

"Law-abiding people who are trying to draw attention to an environmental harm might be worried that they might step over the wrong line and just decide it's not worth it to protest," said Jeff Schmidt, director of the organization's 28,000-member Pennsylvania chapter.

Mr. Schmidt is especially concerned that the law singles out environmental groups based on the nature of their protests.

"Someone else who might do the same kind of activity protesting abortions or [unfair labor practices] might have the same physical impact," he said. Under the new law, those protesters would have milder sentences if convicted than environmental protesters.

"We're talking about things that have always been considered a violation of the law, but they're singling out environmentalists," Mr. Schmidt said.

I think its well said, no matter how hypocritical...

Read the article here.

Anyone else see the scary parallel to hate crimes here?
That's what I saw when I read the article. I was going to incorporate some my thoughts on hate crimes but, I didn't have time to go through a draft this morning.

Some of us are just more equal than others!!
My perpetual question: Why?

Why shouldn't the intentions of the crime or the victim matter?

Is burning a pile of logs on someone else's property the same crime as burning a pile logs shaped in the form of a cross on a black guy's property?

If so, why? Even if we assume equal "moral worth" of individuals, it doesn't follow that "hate crimes" are unreasonable.
Here's one for you:

Why should hitting someone of the minority lead to a heftier sentence than hitting someone of the majority? Why should color of skin or sexual orientation be the deciding factor in length of sentence?

This does not take into account the severity of the crime, only the attributes of a potential victim or the "feelings" of the assailant towards the potential victim.

Intentions do matter. Subjectively defined negative feelings don’t and shouldn’t. Making something more criminal because you dislike someone more than what is socially accepted or legally determined seems to take a great deal away from the actual crime. It also seems rather absurd to me.

Intentions matter with the crime itself. If someone premeditates to kill someone, why would it matter is they “hated” them or not – they still murdered someone. If a society dislikes murder, they should make the sentencing stricter. Why make the sentencing of some crime less strict than others because of a feeling?

Additionally, the actual measure of hatred differs from a knowingly planned crime. Hatred can not be measured objectively. Plans, meetings, and other premeditated activities can be measured and accounted for.

In modern criminal sentencing the intentions are connected with the actual crime and I don’t believe that the feelings of hatred or any other feeling should be taken into account to increase the severity of the crime. Besides, these feelings are only felt, when the victims are of a particular race or sexual orientation, making the real application far more inappropriate.

From a Utilitarian perspective, the "feelings" are just as important. A crime based on racial hatred might cause a greater loss of "universal happiness" than the "same" crime without the racist intent. Of course, for a utilitarian, that would be an empirical question.

But even from a non-utiltiarian perspective, what makes you think one pre-meditated murder is just as bad as another pre-meditated murder?? Is murdering a baby as bad as bad as murdering a drug dealer? Why would you say that? How would you explain your reasoning to someone with different moral intuitions?

And why should we ignore feelings in criminal cases anyways??


On your last point, I would agree that racist intent might be difficult to identify. But that is a different question than whether racist intent should matter.

It might be (and sometimes is) very hard to figure out whether a man ran over a child on purpose or by accident. But we would both agree that intentionally running over the child should be punished differently than accidentially running over a child.

The point here is whether a crime based on racist intent should be punished differently than the "same" crime without racist intent.

But you would face a very hard road if your next step is to argue that the question is moot and that we can never EVER know whether a crime is motivated by racism.
"Universal happiness"?

If it can not be easily measured, why should it be a standard for measure?

It is subjective and arbitrary.

What I am saying that if someone has criminal intent, why does actual hatred matter more than simple negative intentions?
"It is subjective and arbitraty."
Totally unlike conceptions of "justice" among Americans, which is why we're having this conversation now. :-P I kid.

All I'm getting at is figuring out why you believe a pre-meditated murder motivated by racism should be treated the same as a pre-meditated murder motivated by anything else.

The reason I can't answer your question for why it shouldn't is because I don't have a position on the issue. I can offer potential arguments, but none I personally endorse.

On the other hand, You seem to have an idea for why racism shouldn't make a difference for sentencing. All I want is to hear what it is.
I think that if it is premeditated, then feelings about race or sexual orientation should be left out. What type or degree of "dislike", should not influence the length of sentence.

My main problem is that this legislation is only used against assailants of a particular background and only enforced when the victims are of a particular race or sexual orientation. It is a means of district attorneys distributing "justice" and righting the wrongs of birth. It just leaves a lot open for application and interpretation and I am not a fan of laws that do that.

Moreover, since past behavior and actions/involvement are the prime indicators to "hatred", the crime is no longer the concern. Rather it punishes a vice rather than the crime itself.
The differences in the way we view hate crimes (ugh) and other premeditated crimes is related to the incentives created by the failings of the law in the past.
If somebody burns a cross on a black man's lawn, why doesn't he just go burn a cross on the Klan's lawn? Because he would get shot.
So why not shoot the Klansman back?
The question is about whether justice would be served. If the law works right restitution should be paid. If balances are even, then the law is finished. The initiator might still owe the other something extra.
When discussing "Past behavior" it is the behavior of the law that matters.
The law makes categorical decisions.
The phrase "punishes a vice rather than the crime itself" is excellent. Morality is subjective and outside the law.
I agree with Nathan on this. The motivation for much of this legislation is to "make up" for past crimes. Is that fair to current and future generations?

It is much like reparatations. Should current and future populations be forced to pay for past injustices? And since "society" is not of the same demographic breakdown, is this even appropriate, distributionally speaking?
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