The cook, the bank robber and “just punishment”

A day or so ago I posted about the cook at Auschwitz who may be prosecuted for being an accomplice to murder despite the fact the fellow is an old man. At about the same time, I posted about Shon Hopwood, the bank robber, and his wonderful story of redemption. The pairing of these posts was not entirely accidental. While the cases are wildly different, there is an important commonality that lawyers and laymen alike should understand about the federal criminal justice system, and sentencing in particular.

18 USC § 3553(a), the sentencing statute that guides federal judges, sets out a list of sentencing factors (goals). Among others, the statute requires the sentencing judge to select the sentence which provides “just punishment for the offense.” (My emphasis.)
Trust me when I write that great thinkers have written lofty thoughts about the meaning of “just punishment.”* Hopwood represents to me the notion that just punishment contemplates redemption (hope), and the cook represents to me the notion that punishment which is just also includes retribution (vengeance). Now, please realize these two words are only one of several factors that federal sentencing judges must consider when imposing a sentence.

You’re smart. Draw your own conclusions. If you care to, I’d love to hear about those conclusions.


*E.g., Michael Tonry, Editor, Why Punish? How Much?: A Reader on Punishment, at Chapter 13,  beginning at p. 207 (Oxford University Press 2011) (essay by Andrew Von Hirsch).

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