Journal Article

Equality in Criminal Law: The Two Divergent Western Roads

James Q. Whitman

in Journal of Legal Analysis

Published on behalf of The John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics and Business at Harvard Law School with the support of the Considine Family Foundation

Volume 1, issue 1, pages 119-165
Published in print January 2009 | ISSN: 2161-7201
Published online January 2009 | e-ISSN: 1946-5319 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4159/jla.v1i1.8
Equality in Criminal Law: The Two Divergent Western Roads

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Every western society embraces the ideal of equality before the criminal law. However, as this article observes, that ideal is understood differently in the United States and Continental Europe. American law generally demands that all citizens face an equal threat of punishment, while continental European law generally demands that all citizens face an equal threat of investigation and prosecution. This contrast raises a sharp normative challenge: Is it better to think of equality before the criminal law as pre-conviction equality or post-conviction equality? The article makes the case that pre-conviction of the Continental kind is normatively superior. It then asks why American law has opted for what seems a normatively inferior solution, identifying a variety of factors in American culture and the common law tradition that have encouraged the belief that true equality lies in the equal threat of punishment rather than in the equal threat of prosecution.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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