Criminal Law and Sentencing: What Goes with Free Will?

R. George Wright

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

February 26, 2012

This Article notes that increasing numbers of scholars have argued that if we were to minimize our collective belief in the possibility of genuine free will and moral responsibility, we would as a result likely see a more humane, compassionate, enlightened, and generally progressive criminal justice and sentencing system.

As it turns out, though, we must instead conclude that such optimism does not seem warranted.

Beginning with Clarence Darrow’s closing argument in defense of Leopold and Loeb, and then discussing the work of contemporary legal scholars, scientists, and philosophers, as applied in various criminal law contexts, the Article concludes on a skeptical note. Even if a culture takes economic, structural, and institutional causes of crime with utmost seriousness, the more likely result of generally discounting free will and moral responsibility would involve criminal justice practices holding little appeal for most contemporary progressives and advocates of equality.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 80

Keywords: criminal law and sentencing, jurisprudence, free will, determinism, neuroscience, legal philosophy, corrections

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Date posted: February 27, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Wright, R. George, Criminal Law and Sentencing: What Goes with Free Will? (February 26, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2011411 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2011411

Contact Information

R. George Wright (Contact Author)
Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )
530 West New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
United States

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