Posthumous 'Punishment': What May Be Done About Criminal Wrongs After the Wrongdoer's Death?

22 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2015 Last revised: 18 Aug 2015

Date Written: June 2, 2015


The commission of criminal wrongs is occasionally revealed after the (suspected) wrongdoer's death. In such cases, there seems to be a widely-shared intuition, which also frequently motivates many people's actions, that the dead should still be blamed and that some response, not only stemming from civil society but also the state, to the criminal wrong is necessary. This article explores the possibility of posthumous blame and punishment by the state. After highlighting the deficiencies of two pure versions of punishment theory, retributivism and general deterrence theory but also the potential in the latter, it argues for a political theory of the criminal law (mainly from a normative perspective, although the modest claim is made in passing that current institutional arrangements are best understood in this light), which views institutions of punishment as the business not only of defendants and victims but also the political community as a whole. Within this normative scheme posthumous responses to wrongs are possible and in some cases necessary for the maintenance of the stability of the political community. Accountability-holding processes may also be necessary for the protection of the reputation of the deceased suspected wrongdoer.

Suggested Citation

Melissaris, Emmanuel, Posthumous 'Punishment': What May Be Done About Criminal Wrongs After the Wrongdoer's Death? (June 2, 2015). LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 12/2015, Available at SSRN: or

Emmanuel Melissaris (Contact Author)

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