Sunday, November 01, 2009

Why Do Conservatives Apologize For The Government?

I don't know Randall G. Shelden, other than learning he is a criminologist at UNLV, but in searching for a definition of the Conservative philosophy of criminal justice I ran across his thoughts:

The conservative view of crime and criminal justice can be summarized very simply. People commit crime because they think they can get away with it, largely because the pleasure they get from committing the crime is greater than the potential pain they would receive if caught and punished. This is, of course, the popular “deterrence” perspective. From this perspective people refrain from committing crime mostly because of the fear of getting caught and punished. In order to reduce crime, the pain must be increased so that it is greater than the pleasure received from committing the crime. In other words, to reduce crime we should increase the odds of getting caught and the severity of punishment. This way potential criminals will think twice before committing the crime. To use a popular phrase, “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

Having spent the past several years watching the Florida Legislature, and every other legislature, continue to increase sentences in an effort to distract the public from their lack of ability to resolve any other social issue, I think Mr. Shelden is on the mark.

But there is a more disturbing trend in conservative thought when it comes to criminal justice. Maybe it's not a trend, just more visible with the advent of blogs and online comments on newspaper websites, but it appears that conservatives have abandoned their desire for limited government.

I say this because more and more I read comments in response to innocent people being released, charges being dismissed, and not guilty verdicts that are written by conservatives apologizing for not rooting for the government.

"Hey listen, I'm a conservative, and I think they overcharged this guy."

"I think the government went way overboard in this case and I'm a conservative."

"I can't believe the prosecutors are wasting their time with this case, and I'm a conservative."

So, please, tell me, what am I missing?

My understanding is that conservatives, while chest beating their "law & order" philosophy that has turned our criminal justice system into political talking points for elected officials, believe in limited government and believe that a government with too much power is a "bad" thing.

So why do conservatives apologize when they believe the government has gone to far in the criminal justice context?

Are they hypocrites, or am I confused?

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

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