By definition, everyone agrees that the punishment for a crime should be fair and should fit the crime. But what exactly is "fair"? How do we really determine the punishment? Clearly, people from different cultures and time periods have had different ideas about this, because as far as I know there's no way of determining this which isn't somewhat arbitrary and subjective.

Therefore, I thought of a way to objectivize punishment a bit more. My idea is that people should be punished not for what they did, but either on what they intended to do or what the worst likely outcome of their actions would have been. So, instead of having the categories of "attempted murder" and "murder", someone who attempted to kill someone else but failed would be punished just as severely as someone who had actually succeeded. Same goes for the worst likely outome- If, some adrenaline junkie decides to speed through a "crowded" highway in the opposite direction at 200mph but through a miracle does no harm and is caught safely, you should still punish him (or her) as if s/he had caused a huge accident which killed people.

Really, I don't think there's such a fundamental difference between someone who did something wreckless and happened to do no harm, and someone who did the exact same thing and did do harm. My proposed method of justice would also serve to prevent crime. Right now, many people do wreckless/negligent things because they just think "oh, it won't happen to me!" and figure nothing bad will happen. However, if they knew they would be punished as if it HAD happened, I would think that many people would think twice about doing wreckless things.

Of course, the huge problem here is how to judge "the worst LIKELY outcome", but I think this is still an improvement.

What do you all think?

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Well, I'm no lawyer or legal scholar either. However, I am relatively sure that it's not how it works now. As I understand it, the current legal system punishes people for what they did (and to some degree also what they intended, such as first degree murder and whatnot), not for what they could have done. For example, instead of being charged for murdering people, someone driving at 120mph in the wrong direction would probably just be charged wreckless driving (or something like that). The punishment would be far less severe.
That's silly. Punishing someone for what they could have done... what's next? predicting what people are going to do in the future? No, we have to be held accountable for our actions against others, but I think it should be quite the opposite.

For example, the guy who drives 200mph should be made aware that he could have caused a major accident, but let off with a slap on the wrist if he does not actually cause any damage, and possibly be offered a career in racing. However, if he DOES cause a major accident, he should be punished gravely and held responsible for the damage he has caused.

Trying to do something and acually doing it are two completely different things. Do we hand out gold medals to everyone who tries to win? No. We reward accomplishments and we punish blatant disregard for person and property.
Surely punishment must have a purpose and if it has a purpose it's success in fulfilling that purpose can be evaluated?

If punishment is "for" retribution that seems amoral to me and also very likely counter-productive for both the victim and the perpetrator.

If punishment is "for" deterrent then experiment can reveal it's efficacy.

If punishment is "for" rehabilitation likewise we can measure it's effectiveness.

I feel that one of the biggest problems we have with the penal system is that nobody quite agrees on what it's "for".
Well a truly fair world the punishment would basically be and eye for an eye. Thats the only way to make the punishment try fit the crime.

In my opinion punishment should not be the goal, the point of punishment is to teach people what not to do and it fails at it. I think that those who are a threat to others should be separated from society and rehabilitated (or in many cases habilitated) and if they can't be rehabilitated than they should remain separated from society
Hypothetically; if we are going to punish people based on there intent and at some point we figure out how to see into the future. Then do we start punishing people for crimes they have not committed yet?
If punishment is based on intent then doesn't it fallow that people should be punished even when they have not committed a crime yet?
I think you're successfully pointing out the flaws in the concept of punishment.

Deterrent, rehabilitation and the isolation of the dangerous have desirable concrete positive outcomes for potential criminals, actual criminals, victims and society.

Punishment is a retributive act with unstated but perceived (and I would contend imaginary) benefits for the victims and an ill defined deterrent.

Once you know what you are trying to achieve then the scientific method allows you to refine the processes by which you achieve it.

I'm not saying it's easy but being led by our instincts alone (HANG THEM HIGH, ZERO TOLERANCE, FLOG THEM, THREE STRIKES) hasn't achieved much in the last few hundred years.
I smell Minority Report - Philip K Dick gets everywhere.

Intent has to be a crime if we wish to legally prevent the action from occurring by force. Otherwise the law is unable to protect, it can only respond after the fact.

Intent is a purely mental construct so for practical purposes evidence of it would require some manifestation of planning, hence various laws relating to conspiracy (here in the UK at least).
That leads to a question: How many people have intended to do harm to someone but there conscience got in the way? If your going to criminalise intent you have be able to distinguish between people who could go through with it.
And how do you prove intent? You could have a witness that says "He said he was going to kill him" but the defendant could always say that he was rambling, that he didn't mean it or that he meant that hear just going to beat up the victim.
Without a vat of precogs on hand you have to wait for the intent to manifest itself as a threat, conspiracy or observable preliminary actions (e.g. ordering bomb parts and plane tickets). The law is very pragmatic on this issue and these things can be crimes.

But a change of heart must have a similar manifestation if one is to expect leniency, otherwise how would we know?

More enlighten penal systems will permit a reduced or suspended sentence for solid indications of remorse or subsequent good behavior. If a co-conspirator has an attack of sanity and cooperates with the police to bring down a plot being an extreme example.

I can't think of anything better.
I immediate thought of Minority Report too (a film I like incidentally).

Perhaps crime is merely cognizance and intent overlayed on mental illness. If you are mentally ill but not cognizant of it or did not intend it, then it is not a crime (and you are not charged the same way).
Would there be any crime if all resources were kept in abundance (and not for profit)? I suspect there would still be some crime, but it would. Check out the Zeitgeist Movement (and movies if you have not already seen them.)

http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com
http://thezeitgeistmovement.com
I agree with several others here that punishing intention is a very slippery slope and determining a just "worst likely outcome" would not be just in an adversarial judicial system (like the USA or UK).

One thing that bothers me about these kinds of discussions is that people talk about how "society" does the punishment. The common stance is that it is wrong for society to kill someone who is a murderer. From a perspective of a personal and family honor driven society, society generally leaves "justice" to the feuding parties (which rarely resolves anything to anyone's satisfaction = blood feud). Elsewhere, "society" is supposed to be a moderator between the offender and the victim. I wonder if we tend to see crime as a constant battle between criminal and law enforcement officials. Isn't crime a battle between criminals and their victims? The variability in justice is often a reflection of whether the "society" considers the criminal or the victim as being a participating member of that society or an outsider.

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