Criminal Law in the Shadow of Violence

51 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2015

Date Written: May 2, 2011


What makes a crime violent? The word “violence” triggers deeply held intuitions about physical harm, but it is also the source of considerable dispute and contestation. The intuitive familiarity of the concept of violence, in conjunction with its actual malleability, enables it to serve as an important source of legitimation for the criminal justice system. But these same features of the concept of violence may also contribute to the dysfunction of American criminal justice. Policies ostensibly designed to reduce “violent crime” are too readily embraced by the fearful without sufficient critical scrutiny. The shadow of violence impedes criminal justice reform, leaving in place policing and punishment policies that often fail to prevent, and may even exacerbate, incidents of actual physical harm. This Article situates the law and rhetoric of “violent crime” in historical and political context in order to encourage reflection on our concern with violence and more rigorous evaluation of the steps we take to address that concern.

Keywords: violent crime, substantive criminal law, sentencing, punishment, domestic violence

Suggested Citation

Ristroph, Alice, Criminal Law in the Shadow of Violence (May 2, 2011). Alabama Law Review, Vol. 62, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Alice Ristroph (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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