The Challenge of the Bad Man

By Plaxton, Michael | McGill Law Journal, December 2012 | Go to article overview

The Challenge of the Bad Man


Plaxton, Michael, McGill Law Journal


H.L.A. Hart's insight, that some people may be guided by an offence provision because they take it as authoritative and not merely to avoid sanctions, has had an enormous influence upon criminal law theory. Hart, however, did not claim that any person in any actual legal order in fact thinks like the "puzzled man", and there is lingering doubt as to the extent to which we should place him at the center of our analysis as we try to make sense of moral problems in the criminal law. Instead, we might find that our understanding of at least some issues in criminal law theory is advanced when we look through the eyes of Holmes' "bad man". This becomes clear when we consider the respective works by Hart and Douglas Husak on overcriminalization, James Chalmers and Fiona Leverick's recent discussion of fair labeling, and Meir Dan-Cohen's classic analysis of acoustic separation. These works also suggest, in different ways, that an emphasis on the bad man can expose the role of discretion in criminal justice systems, and the rule of law problems it generates.

La suggestion de H.L.A. Hart que certaines personnes obeissent a une disposition penale car ils la considerent comme une source d'autorite, plutot que pour simplement eviter des sanctions, a eu une enorme influence sur la theorie du droit penal. Cependant, Hart n'a pas pretendu que, dans les faits, toute personne dans n'importe quel ordre juridique reel pense comme << l'homme perplexe >> et il existe des doutes persistants quant a la mesure dans laquelle nous devrions le placer au centre de notre analyse alors que nous essayons de donner un sens a des problemes moraux au sein du droit penal. Plutot, nous pourrions decouvrir que notre comprehension d'au moins quelques questions de theorie du droit penal est amelioree lorsque nous regardons a travers les yeux de 1'<< homme mauvais >> de Holmes. Cela devient evident lorsque l'on considere les oeuvres respectifs de Hart et Doublas Husak sur la surcriminalisation, la discussion recente de James Chalmers et Fiona Leverick sur l'etiquetage equitable et l'analyse classique de Meir DanCohen sur la separation acoustique. Ces travaux suggerent egalement, de differentes manieres, qu'un accent sur l'homme mauvais peut exposer le role de la discretion dans les systemes de justice penale, et les problemes de primaute du droit qu'il genere.

Introduction

I.   Hart's Puzzled Man

II.  Should We Care About the Puzzled Man?

III. The Bad Man and the Moral Limits of the
     Criminal Law

IV.  Husak on Overcriminalization: Recalibrating
     the Terms of the Debate

V.   Chalmers and Leverick on Fair Labelling

VI.  Dan-Cohen and the Brutality of Acoustic
     Separation

Conclusion

Introduction

In The Concept of Law, H. L. A. Hart distinguished criminal offences from "orders backed by threats." (1) He did so by observing that a person might be guided by an offence provision not because it credibly threatens her with sanctions, but because she takes it as an authoritative pronouncement that the course of conduct it prohibits is wrongful. This insight has had an enormous influence upon criminal law theory. Hart, however, did not claim that any person in any actual legal order responded to criminal prohibitions in the manner of the "puzzled man", and there is lingering doubt as to the extent to which we should place him at the centre of our analysis as we try to make sense of moral problems in the criminal law. Instead, we might take Holmes' bad man--the person who responds to the threat of sanctions--as our model.

In this paper, I want to make three modest and related claims. First, I argue that with respect to some issues in criminal law theory, it is appropriate to assume that compliance with criminal prohibitions is driven, at least in part, by fear of sanctions rather than by respect for legal authority. Second, I argue that once we premise law's effectiveness on the fear of sanctions, our attention is inevitably drawn away from the role of the legislature in the criminal justice system and toward the discretionary decisions of executive actors (e. …

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