Print Story A thought experiment in culpability
Religion & Philosophy
By tierrasimbolica (Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 12:58:03 PM EST) (all tags)
Inspired by Troy Davis and some discussion on the topic yesterday (thanks aphrael for casting some light on the matter from a legal perspective).  A hypothetical scenario: who is most culpable?


A man lives in an apartment building secured by an electronic security system. His financial competitor decides to hire a three-person team to murder this man.  The first person on the team is an electrical engineer who goes into the building to disable the security system.  The second person breaks into the man's apartment and shoots him, killing him.  The third person is waiting outside with the getaway car running, so that all three may escape after the deed is done.  How should culpability be handled from a sentencing point of view?  Are all four men equally culpable (ie. they should all receive the same sentence in a court of law)?  Or is the man who organized the murder the most culpable (thereby receiving the harshest sentence), or the man who pulled the trigger?
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A thought experiment in culpability | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
There are way too many variables by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #1 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:08:16 PM EST
in sentencing to accurately answer your question [e.g. should they receive the same sentence].

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

I can't really by ni (2.00 / 0) #2 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:12:19 PM EST
imagine why anyone would ask a non-specialist forum, with no judges and only a handful of people with any legal education about sentencing. It's pretty clearly a specialized question you require expert knowledge to answer, and, as you say, probably depends in part on boring particulars of the prosecution and the trial. I can't help but wonder if our generous authorial host isn't confusing the bland, fairly technical matters of sentencing with the question of which person is most morally guilty, although in truth, I find the latter no more interesting.


"These days it seems like sometimes dreams of Italian hyper-gonadism are all a man's got to keep him going." -- CRwM
[ Parent ]
She asked about culpability. by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #4 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:51:59 PM EST
Which I think is asking for moral opinions, rather than sentencing.

I agree it's of no interest, though: if they all knew someone was going to get killed for no good reason and helped with it, they're all murderers, so why split hairs?

[ Parent ]
Indeed. by ni (2.00 / 0) #5 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 05:18:57 PM EST
Specifically, she asked "How should culpability be handled from a sentencing point of view?"

But yes, it's counting angels dancing on the head of a pin stuff. If it's about sentencing, I'm not qualified to answer it. If it's about morality, I think the question is both boring and misguided: sentencing is not a proxy for a moral scorecard.


"These days it seems like sometimes dreams of Italian hyper-gonadism are all a man's got to keep him going." -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
it is not a question of what sentence by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #3 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:21:43 PM EST
they should receive, but rather should they receive the same one?  the sentence could theoretically be any of your choosing, but the question is: do they all deserve the same sentence?  or does the most culpable person deserve a harsher sentence?  no law expertise is required to have an opinion on this.  cheers


[ Parent ]
Should they receive the same sentence? by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 07:47:08 PM EST
Say one of them has no prior police contact and another has a rap sheet as long as your arm -- they aren't going to get the same sentence, particularly not in a federal venue, and I think most would agree they should not. That's before you can even address culpability. Bear in mind that even a minor contribution to conspiracy to commit murder -- you bought the shooter's bullets -- can earn you The Chair. Culpability is a red herring.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
well, let's say then that none of them by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #9 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 08:22:07 PM EST
 has a prior record.

[ Parent ]
They're all guilty of conspiracy to commit by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #11 Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 12:19:57 AM EST
murder, which typically carries the same potential penalties as the principle offense, ergo; they all hang in my court. Your playfield is still too wide.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
nope nope by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #12 Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 12:53:39 AM EST
you already answered the question 

[ Parent ]
okay. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #14 Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 01:29:31 AM EST

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
that's always bothered me by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #16 Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 05:12:12 PM EST
the degree to which the sentence depends not on the crime, but on the identity and history of the perpetrator.

this makes sense from the perspective of a sentencing system geared towards reform and rehabilitation, and maybe it makes some sense from the perspective of a sentencing system geared towards exile and exclusion ... but it still rubs me the wrong way; there's something about it which seems unjust.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.

[ Parent ]
the first guy to squeal on the others by clover kicker (4.00 / 1) #6 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 05:35:30 PM EST
gets the lightest sentence.

Realpolitik by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #8 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 07:49:22 PM EST

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
from, what I gather. by dev trash (4.00 / 1) #10 Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 09:33:21 PM EST
We should not imprison or punish anyone until we get a failsafe method of determining guilt.  Sure, the streets may be a bit chaotic at first.

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I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR BALLS! ->clock
well, you can set someone free from prison by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #13 Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 12:58:41 AM EST
if it turns out they were wrongfully convicted, give them a few million dollars for their troubles and send them on their way.  not an option after a wrongful execution.

[ Parent ]
I don't know how it works in the US by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #15 Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 02:16:26 AM EST
But in the UK there are sentencing guidelines (huge PDF of guidelines for the minor-crimes Magistrates Court). These have lists of aggravating factors and mitigating factors, which make the sentence longer or shorter. E.g. for "Burglary in a Dwelling" (page 34) it has different starting points for: Then it lists
Factors indicating higher culpability
1. Ransacking property
2. Professionalism
3. Victim deliberately targeted e.g. out of spite
4. Housebreaking implements or weapons carried

Factors indicating greater degree of harm
1. Occupier at home or returns home while offender present
2. Goods stolen of sentimental value

Factors indicating lower culpability
1. Offender played only a minor role in the burglary
2. Offence committed on impulse

Factor indicating lesser degree of harm
1. No damage or disturbance to property

Previous convictions aren't really mentioned here, perhaps because in this case a history of burglary means it's sent to a higher court.

So the sentencing all depends on a number of factors: pleading guilty, sentencing history, a number of aggravating or mitigating factors.

That basically seems reasonable to me, though I'd like to see a bit more discretion for the judge/magistrate to apply these factors in the UK.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

the federal sentencing guidelines by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #17 Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 05:12:49 PM EST
are so complicated they make everyone's head hurt. damn stephen breyer.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
[ Parent ]
Most magistrates by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #18 Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 05:20:22 PM EST
Are volunteers with no legal training (my mother is one) and so the guidelines are fairly crisp and clear. The judges' guidelines might be more complicated, but I've never seen them.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
A thought experiment in culpability | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback