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An error, not less common than it is contrary to the object of societythat is, to the consciousness of personal securityis leaving a magistrate to be the arbitrary executor of the laws, free at his pleasure to imprison a citizen, to deprive a personal enemy of his liberty on frivolous pretexts, or to leave a friend unpunished in spite of the strongest proofs of his guilt. Imprisonment is a punishment which, unlike every other, must of necessity precede the declaration of guilt; but this distinctive character does not deprive it of the other essential of punishment, namely, that the law alone shall determine the cases under which it shall be merited. It is for the law, therefore, to point out the amount of evidence of a crime which shall justify the detention of the accused, and his subjection to examination and punishment. For such detention there may be sufficient proofs in common[133] report, in a mans flight, in a non-judicial confession, or in the confession of an accomplice; in a mans threats against or constant enmity with the person injured; in all the facts of the crime, and similar indications. But these proofs should be determined by the laws, not by the judges, whose decisions, when they are not particular applications of a general maxim in a public code, are always adverse to political liberty. The more that punishments are mitigated, that misery and hunger are banished from prisons, that pity and mercy are admitted within their iron doors, and are set above the inexorable and hardened ministers of justice, the slighter will be the evidences of guilt requisite for the legal detention of the suspected.The few select friends who made life at Milan just supportable were Pietro and Alessandro Verri, Frisi, and some others. Pietro Verri was ten years older than Beccaria, and it was at his instance that the latter wrote his first treatise on a subject which then demanded some attention, namely, The Disorders and Remedies of the Coinage. This work was published two years before the Crimes and Punishments, but though it provoked much discussion at the time, it has long since ceased to have any interest.

There is a remarkable contradiction between the civil laws, which set so jealous and supreme a guard upon individual life and property, and the laws of so-called honour, which set opinion above everything. This word honour is one of those that have served as the basis for long and brilliant argumentations, without any fixed or permanent idea being attached to it. How miserable is the condition of human minds, more distinctly cognisant of the remotest and least important ideas about the movements of the heavenly bodies, than of those near and important moral notions, which are ever fluctuating and confused, according as the winds of passion impel them and a well-guided ignorance receives and transmits them! But the seeming paradox will vanish, if one considers, that, as objects become confused when too near the eyes, so the too great propinquity of moral ideas easily causes the numerous simple ideas which compose them to become blended together, to the confusion of those clear lines of demarcation demanded by the geometrical spirit, which would fain measure exactly the phenomena of human sensibility. And the wonder will vanish altogether from the impartial student of human affairs, who will suspect that so great a moral machinery and so many restraints are perchance not needed, in order to render men happy and secure.But there was one great fallacy, pervading our whole criminal law, which Blackstone left undetected and untouched. This was, that the severity of punishment must be augmented in proportion to the increase of temptation, and that the measure of the guilt of a crime lay in the facility with which it might be committed. Among crimes of an equal malignity, says Blackstone, those [deserve most punishment, as most injurious] which a man has the most frequent and easy opportunities of committing, which cannot so easily be guarded against as others, and which, therefore, the offender has the strongest inducement to commit. And on this principle he finds it reasonable, that, while the theft of a pocket-handkerchief should be a capital crime, the theft of a load of hay should only involve transportation.There is an apparent discrepancy in Beccarias first condemning death as too severe a punishment and then recommending lifelong servitude as one of more deterrent power; but Beccaria would have said that the greater certainty of the latter more than compensated for the greater severity of the other. As regards the relative power of the two punishments, it probably varies in different individuals, some men having a greater dread of the one, and some of the other. The popular theory certainly goes too far, when it assumes that all men have a greater dread of the gallows than of anything else. When George III. once granted a pardon to the female convicts in Newgate on condition of their transportation to New South Wales, though seventeen of them accepted[39] the offer, there were yet six who preferred death to a removal from their native country. It is also stated by Howard that in Denmark the punishment in cases of infanticide, namely, imprisonment for life, with labour and an annual whipping on the place of the crime, was dreaded more than death, which it superseded as a punishment.

[32]But it is probable that Beccaria owed his escape from persecution less to his apology than to the liberal protection of Count Firmian, who in his report of the affair to the Court of Vienna spoke of the Risposta as full of moderation and honourable to the character of its author. That the Count fully agreed with Beccarias opinions on torture is proved by a letter he wrote, in which he declares himself to have been much pleased with what Beccaria had said on the subject. His vanity, he said, had been flattered by it, for his own feelings about torture had always been the same. The book seemed to him written with much love of humanity and much imagination. Beccaria always acknowledged his gratitude to the Count for his action in this matter. To Morellet he[18] wrote, that he owed the Count his tranquillity, in having protected his book; and when, a few years later, he published his book on Style, he dedicated it to Firmian as his benefactor, thanking him for having scattered the clouds that envy and ignorance had gathered thickly over his head, and for having protected one whose only object had been to declare with the greatest caution and respect the interests of humanity.

1. When the proofs of a fact are dependent one on anotherthat is to say, when each single proof rests on[135] the weight of some otherthen the more numerous the proofs are, the smaller is the probability of the fact in question, because the chances of error in the preliminary proofs would increase the probability of error in the succeeding ones.[180]

CHAPTER XXVIII. OF INJURIES AND OF HONOUR.I speak of probability in connection with crimes, which, to deserve punishment, ought to be proved. But the paradox is only apparent, if one reflects that, strictly speaking, moral certainty is only a probability, but a probability which is called certainty, because every sensible person necessarily assents to it, by a force of habit which arises from the necessity of acting, and which is prior to all speculation. The certainty requisite for certifying that a man is a criminal is, therefore, the same that determines everyone in the most important actions of his life. The proofs of a crime may be divided into perfect and imperfect, the former being of such a[136] nature as exclude the possibility of a mans innocence, and the latter such as fall short of this certainty. Of the first kind one proof alone is sufficient for condemnation; of the second, or imperfect kind, as many are necessary as suffice to make a single perfect proof; that is to say, when, though each proof taken separately does not exclude the possibility of innocence, yet their convergence on the same point makes such innocence impossible. But let it be noted that imperfect proofs, from which an accused has it in his power to justify himself and declines to do so, become perfect. This moral certainty of proofs, however, is easier to feel than to define with exactitude: for which reason I think that the best law is one which attaches to the chief judge assessors, taken by lot, not by selection, there being in this case more safety in the ignorance which judges by sentiment than in the knowledge which judges by opinion. Where the laws are clear and precise, the function of a judge consists solely in the certification of fact. If for searching out the proofs of a crime ability and cleverness are required, and if in the presentation of the result clearness and precision are essential, all that is required to judge of the result is simple and common good sense, a faculty which is less fallacious than the learning of a judge, accustomed as he is to wish to find men guilty and to reduce everything to an artificial system borrowed from his studies. Happy the nation where the[137] laws are not a science! It is a most useful law that everyone shall be judged by his equals, because where a citizens liberty and fortune are at stake those sentiments which inequality inspires should have no voice; that feeling of superiority with which the prosperous man regards the unfortunate one, and that feeling of dislike with which an inferior regards his superior, have no scope in a judgment by ones equals. But when the crime in question is an offence against a person of a different rank from the accused, then one half of the judges should be the equals of the accused, the other half equals of the plaintiff, that so, every private interest being balanced, by which the appearances of things are involuntarily modified, only the voice of the laws and of truth may be heard. It is also in accordance with justice that an accused person should have power up to a certain point of refusing judges whom he may suspect; and if he is allowed the exercise of this power for some time without opposition, he will seem to condemn himself. Verdicts should be public, and the proofs of guilt public, in order that opinionwhich is, perhaps, the only bond of society there ismay place a check on outbursts of force and passion, and that the people may say, We are not slaves without defence: a feeling which both inspires them with courage and is as good as a tribute to a sovereign who understands his real interest. I refrain from pointing out other details and precautions which[138] require similar regulations. I should have said nothing at all, had it been necessary for me to say everything.

One thing that might be done, which would also serve at the same time to keep a prisoners family from want, the main source of crime, would be the formation of a Prisoners Fund, for his and their benefit. For this there is a precedent in a quite recent Act. For the Act, which abolished the forfeiture of a felons property, enabled the Crown to appoint an administrator of it, for the benefit of the persons injured by the crime and the felons family, the property itself and its income reverting ultimately to the convict or to his representatives. There could, however, be no objection in justice to the forfeiture of a proportionate part of every felons property, such forfeiture to be dedicated to the formation of a fund, out of which assistance should be given, both to the families of prisoners during their custody and to the prisoners themselves on their discharge.[62] Such a fund might be still further increased by the substitution of a lien on a mans wages or income for many minor offences now punished, but not prevented, by imprisonment.Some crimes tend directly to the destruction of society or to the sovereign who represents it; others affect individual citizens, by imperilling their life, their property, or their honour; whilst others, again, are actions contrary to the positive or negative obligations which bind every individual to the public weal.But, to turn from this unpleasant episode of Beccarias life, Catharine II., soon after his return to Milan, invited him to St. Petersburg, to assist in the preparation of her intended code of laws. It would seem from one of Pietro Verris letters that Beccaria was at first inclined to accept the proposal,[15] but it is improbable that any such offer would really have tempted him to exchange Italian suns for Russian snows, even if Kaunitz and Firmian had not resolved to remove the temptation, by making his talents of service at home. This they did by making him Professor of Political Economy in the Palatine School of Milan, in November 1768; and his published lectures on this subject form the largest work he ever wrote.



Barbarous spectacles were, Paley thought, justly found fault with, as tending to demoralise public feeling. But, he continued, if a mode of execution could be devised which would augment the horror of the punishment, without offending or impairing the public sensibility by cruel or unseemly exhibitions of death, it might add something to the efficacy of[57] example; and by being reserved for a few atrocious crimes might also enlarge the scale of punishment, an addition to which seems wanting, for as the matter remains at present you hang a malefactor for a simple robbery, and can do no more to the villain who has poisoned his father. Something of the sort we have been describing was the proposal, not long since suggested, of casting murderers into a den of wild beasts, where they would perish in a manner dreadful to the imagination, yet concealed from the view. It is interesting after this to learn, that Paley thought torture properly exploded from the mild and cautious system of penal jurisprudence established in this country, and that (to do him justice) he urged private persons to be tender in prosecuting, out of regard for the difficulty of prisoners to obtain an honest means of livelihood after their discharge.In a period of ten years, from 1867 to 1876, the total number of principal indictable offences committed in the metropolis against propertyand these constitute the great majority of crimeswere 117,345. But the apprehensions for these offences were only 26,426, the convictions only 19,242. In other words,[94] the chances against apprehension for such crimes as burglary or larceny are four to one in favour of the criminal, whilst the chances against his conviction and punishment are fully as high as six to one. When we thus find that only 16 per cent. of such crimes receive any punishment, the remaining 84 per cent. escaping it altogether, and that only 22 per cent. are even followed by apprehension, we shall the more admire the general efficacy of our criminal machinery, in which prevention by punishment plays so small a part.[51]




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