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Deterrence has two purposes: (i) to restrain the wrong-doer from repeatedly indulging in crime, and (ii) to set an example for others to deter and prevent them from committing crimes or violating laws.
Just as a wild animal cannot be allowed to range at will in the city streets, similarly assuming that there is a danger that the criminal may again commit crime, the penalty of law is imposed upon him and his liberty is restrained until the danger of his giving indulgence to his criminal propensities is past.
In certain cases, imprisonment may not be sufficient for the protection of society, or restraint by imprisonment may not be wholly effectual, therefore, if it is reasonably considered necessary to terminate criminal's life, even that is done for the purposes of deterrence.
This requires going into the history of the criminal and investigating the circumstances in which crime was committed.
If it is found that he is indeed a dangerous criminal, or that he is a man of uncontrollable violence or of homicidal tendency, or that he habitually commits serious crimes, or that he has a savage nature, or that he has committed crime with inhuman brutality, or that he is likely to escape from prison if imprisoned and may again make innocent people his prey, or that his existence is a danger to community, then the sentence of death is justifiable and advisable.
If death penalty is considered not necessary, a long term of imprisonment or imprisonment for the remainder of his life may be awarded to protect society from any further depredations on his part.
Deterrent punishment may also aim at frightening others from violating law. Where crime is committed in a planned way and not under impulse or emotion, or where murder is deliberately planned with a motive of vengeance, the extreme penalty works a deterrent effect.
Typical examples for deterrent punishment could be terrorism, bank or highway robberies, and murders committed and the bodies cut into pieces either to get rid of persons or to attain inonetary benefits.
In cases where crimes are not the result of reasoning or of weighing considerations for or against the intended crime, punishment with the intent of setting an example may not serve any purpose.
Deterrent punishment is in fact based on the doctrine of freedom of the will, according to which a person is free to do as he pleases. Society should, therefore, try to discipline him and to bring his behaviour into conformity with generally accepted standards by giving him deterrent punishment for violating laws.
Not only must he be taught a lesson but others may also be frightened through his punishment to obey the law. The believers in the doctrine of freedom of the will are known as 'libertarians'.
There are, however, scholars who reject this doctrine and argue against deterrence in punishment. Their arguments are:
1. In spite of the fact that capital punishment is awarded mainly for murder yet hundreds of murders are committed every year. This point out that punishment is not always deterrent.
2. To say that "man is free to do as he pleases" is not correct because his behaviour is determined by values which he derives from his culture. What is considered right by one may be considered wrong by other or what pleases one may be disagreeable to other?
How can, therefore, one be expected to imitate others, particularly when one accepts the values of his culture and is also susceptible to a wide range of educational programmes.
Denying the role of education as well as the role of one's experiences in determining one's 'choice' of action/behaviour would be placing man beyond the influence of education and send him bounding through life like an utterly unpredictable person. Assuredly, this is not correct.
3. It is empirically established today that criminal behaviour, like all human behaviour is the result of heredity and environmental causes, i.e. an individual does not have a single choice for determining his behaviour but it is determined by various factors.
In such a situation, fear of law and punishment alone cannot deter a person from indulging in what is considered as anti-social behaviour.
The policy of detection and apprehension is given little thought by many violators of the law, and often the penalty is not even thought of, assuming it is known to him. Most normal persons do not order their lives by thoughts of the future.
4. Man does not live by fear alone. Economic insecurity, loyalty to family and friends, and ambition, anger, and resentment many a time compel him to face the greatest dangers in violating the law. No wonder many people defy the law and risk arrest and imprisonment in order to satisfy their desires.
Moreover, it cannot be denied that if punishment is quickly, uniformly, publicly, and severely inflicted, it undoubtedly would prevent many crimes that are being committed by those who pay no heed to the punishment that they may receive for their acts.