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The Theory of Penalties and the Economics of Criminal Law

Keith N. Hylton

Boston University - School of Law

January 2005

Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 02-17

This paper presents a model of penalties that reconciles the
conflicting accounts optimal punishment by Becker, who argued
penalties should internalize social costs, and Posner, who
suggested penalties should completely deter offenses. The
model delivers specific recommendations as to when penalties
should be set to internalize social costs and when they should
be set to completely deter offensive conduct. I use the model
to generate a positive account of the function and scope of
criminal law doctrines, such as intent, necessity, and rules
governing the distinction between torts and crimes. The model
is also consistent with the history of criminal penalties set
out by Adam Smith.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 46

Keywords: internalization, deterrence, optimal penalties, punitive damages, law enforcement, necessity doctrine, criminal intent

JEL Classification: K, K00, K14, K13, K41, K42

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Date posted: November 5, 2002  

Suggested Citation

Hylton, Keith N., The Theory of Penalties and the Economics of Criminal Law (January 2005). Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 02-17. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=337460 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.337460

Contact Information

Keith N. Hylton (Contact Author)
Boston University - School of Law ( email )
765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States
617-353-8959 (Phone)
617-353-3077 (Fax)
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