Is trying to kill somebody just as bad as killing somebody?

2012-01-07 (Saturday) § 7 Comments

Do you have a harsher moral judgment for someone who attempts murder and succeeds than for someone who attempts it and fails? Do you think the law should punish a successful murderer more harshly than an attempted one? If so and your moral judgment of both is the same, how do you explain the discrepancy?

Here’s my answer: I do have the same moral judgment of both, but I favor some differences in how the law treats them.

I think criminal law should have two main ends:
1) to prevent repetition of offenses and
2) to restore losses to victims. (I have a few additional principles to narrow down how those ends are pursued, but those are the ends I endorse.)

Retribution, i.e. inflicting suffering on offenders commensurate to the suffering they’ve caused, should play no role in the law in my opinion.

#1 should work the same way for both successful and attempted murderers, or for any criminals. Both have given the same evidence of the likelihood that they’ll commit future offenses.

#2 will sometimes be inapplicable in the case of murder, since we have no way to resurrect the dead. But a murder does inflict other losses besides the death itself on the survivors of the deceased (such as lost income from a financial provider). Some of these will be amenable to restitution at the offender’s expense. For that end of criminal law, different treatment of successful vs. attempted murderers is likely to be justified.

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