Questions and Answers Victims and Punishment

Questionsand Answers: Victims and Punishment

Questionand Answers: Victims and Punishment


Capitalpunishment should go beyond murder convicts to other heinous crimessuch as rape. Although it is quite difficult to provide conclusiveproof that the death penalty deter criminal behavior other than forthe person who is executed, countries where death sentences arealmost carried out experience declines in serious crimes. The deathpenalty deters heinous crimes such as murder and rape if execution isseen by many as certain or at least likely. Capital punishment isalmost likely to deter criminals where the potential criminal hastime to plan and consider the potential consequencesof the crime. Onthe other hand, when a crime is committed spontaneously, it isunlikely that any punishment could deter potential criminals fromcommitting such crimes. Therefore, capital punishment should bereserved for convicts of pre-meditated murder.

Themanner in which capital punishment is carried out does not depend onthe legality of the exercise, but whether the people who were fullyinformed as to the purpose of the penalty and its liabilities wouldconsider the penalty shocking, unjust, and unacceptable.Thus, publicopinion alone cannot determine the legitimacy of the manner in whicha capital punishment is administered, but the information thatinfluences a particular opinion about it. In judging whether aparticular capital punishment was administered in a morallyacceptable manner, courts often rule that a punishment is validunless “It shocks the conscience and sense of justice of thepeople”.Thus, a violation of the eight amendments depends on thepredictable, subjective, emotional reactions of informed citizens.


In1977, the legislature of New York passed a law, though later amended,that set stipulations for any income received by convicts from thesale of stories they write about their criminal lives (Schmalleger,Hall &ampDolatowski, 2010). The stipulation was that the money wouldbe placed in an escrow account for a five-year period. During thisfive-year period, the law also gave the victims of accused orconvicted persons the right to file for civil actions for effectivecompensation.The law also mandated publishers with contracts withaccused persons to submit a copy of the contract to the Crime VictimsBoard. The victim would then be entitled to a share of the proceedsof writings by convicts or accused persons if they win the suitagainst them. The accused or convicted person would also use theproceeds from the sale of their written work to pay for such thingsas legal fees or payment to creditors under certain circumstancesunder that law. The name “Son of Sam” laws emanated from theenation of the laws as a reactions to the stories that DavidBerkowitz, a New York serial killer, planned to sell the story of hisactions after his much publicized and sensationalized arrest andtrial.Now, this law was challenged in the courts as beingunconstitutional prior to restraint. In 1991, the Supreme Court, intheSimon &amp Schuster, Inc. vs. Members of the New York States CrimeVictims Board,ruled on a vote of 8 to 0 that the law singled out speech on aparticular for a financial liability that it places on neither otherspeech nor other income.The ruling judge stated that the State’sinterest in providing compensation for the victims of crime isincredible decision, but this law was not specially crafted to meetthat objective.

Thejudges underscored the fact that the law contravened the FirstAmendment. According to the Judges’ interpretation, any statue thatimposed financial liability on a person due to the content of theirwritten or oral work presumptively violates the First Amendment. Theyalso observed that the law was broad, an included those unconfirmed(through prosecution) criminals who admitted through written or oralmaterial that they had a committed a crime. The case came up afterthe New York Crimes Victims board demanded that the publisher ofSimon &amp Schuster to turn over all proceeds payable to theself-confessed organized crime figure Henry Hill through his bookWiseguy.Wiseguy laterinspired a film called Goodfellas,thatlater won an award as the best film of 1990.Hill was also ordered toturn over the proceeds he had already received.

Simon&amp Schuster sued the board, seeking declaratory judgment that thelaw was unconstitutional. A District Court ruled against thepublisher and the 2ndCircuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed. The court reversed the rulingby pointing out that works such as the Autobiographyof Malcolm X and the Confessions of St. Augustine wouldnever have been published if the law had been on the books at thetime they were written. The court also cited and possibly suggestedother constitutional means of obtaining such proceeds such assecuring a judgment against the criminal’s assets in a civil suit.

Significancefor the Notoriety-for-profit laws

TheSupreme Court’s ruling on the law was the right step towardspreventing criminals from profiting from their inhumane actions. Insome instances, lawyers exploit alarming criminal cases to aidcriminal convicts and accused persons to write compelling storiesthat attract he sales for their benefit. With the ruling in place,state legislatures have been compelled to enact notoriety-for-profitlaws that conform to the Supreme Court Ruling.


Schmalleger,F., Hall, D. E., &ampDolatowski, J. J. (2010). Criminal law today(4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Learning.