The meaning of life in criminal law

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Inflation and deflation change the value of money. Policymakers have used this rationale to amend legislation fixed to a monetary value. What is not acknowledged is that increase in life expectancy could also be a form of inflation, and, accordingly, could affect "the value" of nonmonetary sanctions-chiefly, imprisonment and capital punishment. Under a utilitarian approach to criminal law, with an increase in life expectancy, nonmonetary sanctions with confined-terms reduce their deterrent value, while nonmonetary sanctions with finite-terms, inter alia, life-imprisonment without parole and capital punishment, increase their deterrent value and severity. Under a retributive approach to criminal law, changes in life expectancy also affect the magnitude of nonmonetary criminal sanctions and change the proportionality between the criminal conduct and the punishment. Nevertheless, although life expectancy in the United States has increased substantially, legislators have not adjusted nonmonetary criminal sanctions accordingly. At the least, scholars and policymakers failed to recognize the role of life expectancy in the formation of criminal sanctions. Hence, current criminal punishments have not been recalibrated properly. This Article revisits theories of criminal punishments while offering a new perspective on determining nonmonetary criminal sanctions that recognizes life expectancy considerations. It examines the current and desirable approach toward life expectancy considerations in criminalpunishment theories while reviewing statistical data on the increase of life expectancy in the United States since independence. After discussing criminal punishment theories, and evaluating the role of life expectancy considerations under them, I conclude that criminal law theories, to a great extent, support life expectancy considerations. Under both utilitarian and retributive approaches, lack of practical considerations of life expectancy in criminal punishments could lead to a misconception of criminal law theories and Erode the important role played by criminal sanctions. Accordingly, this Article examines consequences of failing to apply life expectancy considerations in practice and proposes modest solutions to overcome this perceived problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-808
Number of pages46
JournalRutgers Law Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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