Cesare Beccaria

Much of what Cesare Beccaria wrote in "On Crimes and Punishments" in 1764 still holds true today.

Beccaria’s work has become the foundation on which many criminology theories use to build and expand.

Often laws are promoted not by criminologists or "dispassionate students of human nature" but by passionate organisations with narrow minded goals and missions. With a desired end result of introducing legislation that suits their purpose only.

One thing that is essential to any laws regarding criminal justice is that the laws be created by a "dispassionate student of human nature". Beccaria stated that many of the present laws were just "a mere tool of the passions of some, or have arisen from an accidental and temporary need." There is little doubt that the same holds true today.

Laws should be enlightened, rational, logical and should be the greatest good for the greatness number. He felt that criminal laws should be formed with rational thought and not passions.

On legislation; Let the laws be clear and simple, let the entire force of the nation be united in their defence, let them be intended rather to favour every individual than any particular classes of men; let the laws be feared, and the laws only. The fear of the laws is salutary, but the fear of men is a fruitful and fatal source of crimes.

On the assumption of guilt; No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection until it have been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. What right, then, but that of power, can authorise the punishment of a citizen so long as there remains any doubt of his guilt?

On oaths; Oaths are useless, because it will not make a liar tell the truth, "every judge can be my witness that no oath ever make any criminal tell the truth"

On the prevention of crime; Crimes are more effectually prevented by the certainty than the severity of punishment...The more promptly and the more closely punishment follow upon the commission of a crime, the more just and useful will it be...It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them. This is the fundamental principle of good legislation.

Beccaria wrote a short chapter on preventing crime because he thought that preventing crime was better than punishing them. He gave nine principles that need to be in place in order to effectively prevent crime. To prevent crime a society must;

  1. make sure laws are clear and simple,
  2. make sure that the entire nation is united in defense,
  3. laws not against classes of men, but of men,
  4. men must fear laws and nothing else,
  5. certainty of outcome of crime,
  6. member of society must have knowledge because enlightenment accompanies liberty,
  7. reward virtue,
  8. perfect education,
  9. direct the interest of the magistracy as a whole to observance rather than corruption of the laws.

If these nine principles are followed there would be less of a need to follow the other principles of trial and punishments.

On gun control; "False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.

Can it be supposed that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, the most important of the code, will respect the less important and arbitrary ones, which can be violated with ease and impunity, and which, if strictly obeyed, would put an end to personal liberty--so dear to men, so dear to the enlightened legislator--and subject innocent persons to all the vexations that the guilty alone ought to suffer?

Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve to rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man. They ought to be designated as laws not preventative but fearful of crimes, produced by the tumultuous impression of a few isolated facts, and not by thoughtful consideration of the inconveniences and advantages of a universal decree. "


Cesare Beccaria, An Essay on Crimes and Punishments
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Cesare Beccaria
Internet Modern History Sourcebook

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