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The Criminal-Civil Distinction and the Utility of Desert

15 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2005 Last revised: 4 Dec 2007

Paul H. Robinson

University of Pennsylvania Law School


The communist Chinese have distinct criminal and civil systems, as do the democratic Swiss, and the monarchist Saudis.1 The criminal-civil distinction also is a basic organizing device for Islamic Pakistan, Catholic Ireland, Hindu India, and the atheistic former Soviet Union, industrialized Germany, rural Papua New Guinea, the tribal Bedouins, wealthy Singapore, impoverished Somalia, developing Thailand, newly organized Ukraine, and the ancient Romans. Apparently every society sufficiently developed to have a formal legal system usesthe criminal-civil distinction as an organizing principle. Why? Why has every society felt it necessary to create a system to impose criminal liability distinct from civil liability?

Keywords: civil liability, criminal liability, desert, punishment theory

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Paul H., The Criminal-Civil Distinction and the Utility of Desert. Boston University Law Review, Vol. 76, pp. 201-214, 1996. Available at SSRN:

Paul H. Robinson (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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