NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 95, Number 5

November 2020

Punishing Violent Crime

Russell Patterson

Beginning in the 1970s, politicians and the public began to view individuals who committed violent offenses as irredeemable dangers to the public whose incarceration was necessary to ensure the public’s safety. As a result, state legislators enacted sentencing statutes that increased the punishment of violent crimes, which include offenses such as murder, rape, and robbery. This Note explores what led lawmakers to adopt sentencing statutes that single out individuals convicted of committing violent offenses for enhanced punishment and then shows that those lawmakers operated on the basis of inaccurate or incomplete conceptions of violent crime. Drawing on recent sociological and other empirical work, it shows that there is no neat dividing line between people who commit violent and non-violent offenses and argues that lawmakers made their decisions on the basis of false or incomplete information. In response, this Note advocates for the elimination of sentencing statutes that impose enhanced sentences on individuals convicted of violent crimes. Lawmakers should instead determine the appropriate criminal punishment for those convicted of violent crimes through the holistic, evidence-based approach that has become popular in the last decade with respect to non-violent crimes.