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Since, therefore, there is more to fear from a punished than from an unpunished criminal, there is the less reason to regret the general impunity of crime. There is indeed a large class of crimes for the prevention of which more would be done, by leaving them to their natural consequences, and to the strong power against them which the general interests and moral feelings of mankind will always enforce, than by actual punishment. It is particularly crimes of dishonesty which are best punished by the mere fact of their discovery. By the Norwegian law if an offender holds any official place he is punished, not by fine or imprisonment, but by the loss of his office and all the privileges connected with it.[59] And if we imagine a country without any legal penalty at all for theft or dishonesty, thieves and their tribe would soon find their proper punishment, by that process of social shifting, which would drive them to the most deleterious or dangerous occupations of life even more effectually than it so drives them at present. The less dependence is placed on the penal sanctions of crime, the stronger do the moral restraints from it become.

Lord Ellenborough, on the last day but one of May 1810, appealed to their lordships to pause, before they passed the Shoplifting Bill and gave their assent to the repeal of a law which had so long been held necessary for the security of the public. No one, he insisted, was more disposed than himself to the exercise of clemency, but there was not the slightest ground for the insinuations of cruelty that had been cast on the administration of the law. If shoplifting did not require the penalty of death, the same rule would have to apply to horse- and sheep-stealing; and, in spite of all that was said in favour of this speculative humanity, they must all agree, that prevention of crime should be the chief object of the law, and that terror alone could prevent the crime in question. Those who were thus speculating in modern legislation urged that punishment should[63] be certain and proportionate; but he could satisfy the House that any attempt to apply a punishment in exact conformity to the offence would be perfectly ludicrous. He had consulted with the other judges, and they were unanimously of opinion that it would not be expedient to remit this part of the severity of the criminal law.[38] He therefore entreated them to pause. CHAPTER I. BECCARIAS LIFE AND CHARACTER.

I speak of probability in connection with crimes, which, to deserve punishment, ought to be proved. But the paradox is only apparent, if one reflects that, strictly speaking, moral certainty is only a probability, but a probability which is called certainty, because every sensible person necessarily assents to it, by a force of habit which arises from the necessity of acting, and which is prior to all speculation. The certainty requisite for certifying that a man is a criminal is, therefore, the same that determines everyone in the most important actions of his life. The proofs of a crime may be divided into perfect and imperfect, the former being of such a[136] nature as exclude the possibility of a mans innocence, and the latter such as fall short of this certainty. Of the first kind one proof alone is sufficient for condemnation; of the second, or imperfect kind, as many are necessary as suffice to make a single perfect proof; that is to say, when, though each proof taken separately does not exclude the possibility of innocence, yet their convergence on the same point makes such innocence impossible. But let it be noted that imperfect proofs, from which an accused has it in his power to justify himself and declines to do so, become perfect. This moral certainty of proofs, however, is easier to feel than to define with exactitude: for which reason I think that the best law is one which attaches to the chief judge assessors, taken by lot, not by selection, there being in this case more safety in the ignorance which judges by sentiment than in the knowledge which judges by opinion. Where the laws are clear and precise, the function of a judge consists solely in the certification of fact. If for searching out the proofs of a crime ability and cleverness are required, and if in the presentation of the result clearness and precision are essential, all that is required to judge of the result is simple and common good sense, a faculty which is less fallacious than the learning of a judge, accustomed as he is to wish to find men guilty and to reduce everything to an artificial system borrowed from his studies. Happy the nation where the[137] laws are not a science! It is a most useful law that everyone shall be judged by his equals, because where a citizens liberty and fortune are at stake those sentiments which inequality inspires should have no voice; that feeling of superiority with which the prosperous man regards the unfortunate one, and that feeling of dislike with which an inferior regards his superior, have no scope in a judgment by ones equals. But when the crime in question is an offence against a person of a different rank from the accused, then one half of the judges should be the equals of the accused, the other half equals of the plaintiff, that so, every private interest being balanced, by which the appearances of things are involuntarily modified, only the voice of the laws and of truth may be heard. It is also in accordance with justice that an accused person should have power up to a certain point of refusing judges whom he may suspect; and if he is allowed the exercise of this power for some time without opposition, he will seem to condemn himself. Verdicts should be public, and the proofs of guilt public, in order that opinionwhich is, perhaps, the only bond of society there ismay place a check on outbursts of force and passion, and that the people may say, We are not slaves without defence: a feeling which both inspires them with courage and is as good as a tribute to a sovereign who understands his real interest. I refrain from pointing out other details and precautions which[138] require similar regulations. I should have said nothing at all, had it been necessary for me to say everything.

The first trace of Beccarias influence in England appeared in the first edition of Blackstones Commentaries, of which the book on the Criminal Laws[48] was published the very next year after the appearance of the Italian treatise. That Blackstone was well acquainted with it is proved by his frequent reference to it in treating of crimes. From Beccaria he argues that the certainty of punishments is more effectual than their severity, and finds it absurd to apply the same punishment to crimes of different malignity. Blackstone was also the first professional lawyer to find fault with the frequency of capital punishment in England, and to point out as a melancholy truth the presence of 160 actions in the statute book which were felonies without benefit of clergy.

CHAPTER III. CONSEQUENCES.

Banishment, it would seem, should be employed[181] in the case of those against whom, when accused of an atrocious crime, there is a great probability but not a certainty of guilt; but for this purpose a statute is required, as little arbitrary and as precise as possible, condemning to banishment any man who shall have placed his country in the fatal dilemma of either fearing him or of injuring him, leaving him, however, the sacred right of proving his innocence. Stronger reasons then should exist to justify the banishment of a native than of a foreigner, of a man criminated for the first time than of one who has been often so situated.

Even if we assume that death is absolutely the severest penalty devisable by the law, and that as a punishment for murder it is not too severe, it remains certain, that, relatively to the circumstances of a trial[40] for murder, to the reluctance of judges or juries to pass an irretrievable sentence, to their fear of error, to their conscientious regard for human life, it is really a much less terrible danger for a malefactor to face than a penalty which would justify fewer hopes of impunity.

CHAPTER XXXII. OF DEBTORS.

Another way to prevent crimes is to reward virtue. On this head I notice a general silence in the laws of all nations to this day. If prizes offered by academies to the discoverers of useful truths have caused the multiplication of knowledge and of good books, why should not virtuous actions also be multiplied, by prizes distributed from the munificence of the sovereign? The money of honour ever remains unexhausted and fruitful in the hands of the legislator who wisely distributes it.

Men for the most part leave the regulation of their chief concerns to the prudence of the moment, or to the discretion of those whose interest it is to oppose the wisest laws; such laws, namely, as naturally help to diffuse the benefits of life, and check that tendency they have to accumulate in the hands of a few, which ranges on one side the extreme of power and happiness, and on the other all that is weak and wretched. It is only, therefore, after having passed through a thousand errors in matters that most nearly touch their lives and liberties, only after weariness of evils that have been suffered to reach a climax, that men are induced to seek a remedy for the abuses which oppress them, and to recognise the clearest truths, which, precisely on account of their simplicity, escape the notice of ordinary minds, unaccustomed as they are to analyse things, and apt to receive their impressions anyhow, from tradition rather than from inquiry.

CHAPTER XLI. THE PREVENTION OF CRIMESOF KNOWLEDGEMAGISTRATESREWARDSEDUCATION.

Since, therefore, there is more to fear from a punished than from an unpunished criminal, there is the less reason to regret the general impunity of crime. There is indeed a large class of crimes for the prevention of which more would be done, by leaving them to their natural consequences, and to the strong power against them which the general interests and moral feelings of mankind will always enforce, than by actual punishment. It is particularly crimes of dishonesty which are best punished by the mere fact of their discovery. By the Norwegian law if an offender holds any official place he is punished, not by fine or imprisonment, but by the loss of his office and all the privileges connected with it.[59] And if we imagine a country without any legal penalty at all for theft or dishonesty, thieves and their tribe would soon find their proper punishment, by that process of social shifting, which would drive them to the most deleterious or dangerous occupations of life even more effectually than it so drives them at present. The less dependence is placed on the penal sanctions of crime, the stronger do the moral restraints from it become.

It is, then, proved that the law which imprisons[227] subjects in their own country is useless and unjust. The punishment, therefore, of suicide is equally so; and consequently, although it is a fault punishable by God, for He alone can punish after death, it is not a crime in the eyes of men, for the punishment they inflict, instead of falling on the criminal himself, falls on his family. If anyone objects, that such a punishment can nevertheless draw a man back from his determination to kill himself, I reply, that he who calmly renounces the advantages of life, who hates his existence here below to such an extent as to prefer to it an eternity of misery, is not likely to be moved by the less efficacious and more remote consideration of his children or his relations.

A farm labourer, with a wife and four children, and earning eleven shillings a week, was imprisoned in the county gaol for two months for the theft of a pound of butter. Soon after his release sickness entered his home, and to supply his childrens wants[89] he again yielded to temptation and stole twelve ducks eggs. For this he was sentenced to seven years penal servitude; or rather not for this theft, but because he had already incurred a severe punishment for a theft of some butter. The sentence was most perfectly lawful, but was it not perfectly unjust?