Normative Crime Control: The Utility of Desert

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



According to the theory of normative crime control, the incorporation of community judgments of justice into law's liability and punishment rules is essential to law's crime-control effectiveness because it is only by earning moral credibility with the community it governs that the criminal law can, among other things, harness the powerful forces of social influence and internalized norms. This chapter examines the arguments in support of this theory and the role that criminal law can play in harnessing normative forces. It begins by considering the traditional “coercive crime-control” programs that use deterrence, incapacitation of the dangerous, and rehabilitation as distributive principles for criminal liability and punishment. It then makes the case for the crime-control benefits of a distributive principle that maximizes criminal law's moral credibility with the community, primarily by having its liability and punishment rules track the community's judgments of justice. This so-called “empirical desert” has some considerable overlap with the “deontological desert” that moral philosophers reason out, but the two also have differences. The final section offers a critique of empirical desert's strengths and weaknesses.


criminal law, crime control, moral credibility, justice, empirical desert, deontological desert, criminal liability, punishment

Publication Title

Intuitions of Justice and the Utility of Desert