Could A Libertarian Justice System Spur Violent Criminal Resistance?

Dave Killion — September 4, 2012

The libertarian view on criminal justice, generally, is that it should be oriented more towards restitution than to punishment. This is very much the opposite of our current legal system, in which the victim usually not only fails to gain full restitution, but also must join other taxpayers in paying for the judge, public attorneys, police, and infrastructure needed to call criminals to account. I have always suspected that the result of such a system is that ‘small’ acts of crime would become significantly more costly to the perpetrator who, upon being found guilty, would bear the burden of ponying up for all costs related to his capture, prosecution, and fulfillment of sentencing. I have been confident that the result of such a system would be, if not the end of petty crime altogether, very likely the near-total elimination of recidivism. However, after listening to Episode 9 of CBC Radio’s “The Invisible Hand”, I have had to reconsider the possible effects such a system might have.

In the episode (Perverse Incentives), there is an examination of the unintended consequences arising from Three Strikes laws, one of which has been instances of extremely violent, and even fatal, acts of resistance on the part of criminals facing capture and prosecution for a third offence and the severe punishment mandated to follow. Given that even a humble burglar would be facing potentially tens of thousands of dollars to make his victim whole AND pay for all other costs, would he be more likely to resist his arrest violently?

It may be that the best policy overall is for people to exercise more personal effort in protecting themselves from crime, perhaps arming themselves and insuring their property is secured. Maybe, in time, this sort of reliance on self-protection would become so accepted that anyone who fell victim to a petty crime would be so embarrassed at their own irresponsibility that they wouldn’t even mention it. Or perhaps a free-market system would be so efficient and inexpensive that the cost to petty criminals would remain sufficiently low that the potential costs of violent resistance would be too high to contemplate. It’s an interesting matter to consider.

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