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July 28, 2011

"Can Norwegian punishment fit the crime?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable piece in USA Today.  Here are excerpts:

[I]n the days since the world learned that Breivik could face a maximum 21-year prison sentence for the killings there has been some criticism of the Norwegian justice.

Anti-Breivik Facebook groups have appeared such as Anders Behring Breivik Haters and Hang Anders Behring Breivik.  One group asked members to vote on whether Norway should reintroduce capital punishment, abolished for civilian crimes in 1902 and banned completely in 1988 (after briefly being used on World War II Nazi collaborators).  The Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten reported that 71,000 of 97,000 members replied no.  

But some say Norway may be too easy on criminals even though its crime rates now are low compared with those in the United States.  "Yes, there will be more momentum for those who opine that the Norwegian penalties are too lenient," said Helge Lurås, a terrorism expert at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

Lurås said polls show 25% of Norwegians are in favor of the death penalty; among Progress Party members, who are conservative, the figure is 50%.  But even the right wing in Norway is not prepared to look toward the U.S. system of life sentences without parole for murder.  "My sense is that people tend to feel that the penitentiary system and the penalties are insufficiently punitive" in Norway, Lurås said.  "But I think most Norwegians perceive the U.S. criminal system to be far too harsh."

Since Friday's twin terror attacks in Oslo and the nearby island of Utaya, there have been no street protests in this otherwise usually tolerant Nordic society.  Police attorney Christian Hatlo says it is possible that Breivik might be charged for crimes against humanity and face a 30-year sentence.  And if convicted, he could be held beyond his term's expiration if he is deemed to still be a danger to society, perhaps for life.

Many say Norway's justice system should reflect Norway's values.  "Today, most of the people will say that no penalty is too strong for a mass murder," said Harald Stanghelle, political editor at Aftenposten, in a commentary Wednesday. "It's important then to be aware that we are a just society.  He wanted to crush that just society, while we others want to preserve it."...

Norway has refused to deport foreigners if they could face the death penalty at home, as is the case with Mullah Krekar, founder of terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, who lives in Norway. "I think the American system is based on a value other than the norm in Norway," said Arne Brusgaard, 66, an independent consultant. "In the U.S., the focus is not just on freedom of movement, but also on making the punishment regime tough. As far as I can understand, there is too little focus on rehabilitation and reintroduction into society."

John Christian Elden, a criminal defense lawyer and partner at the law firm Elden, said Norway is being practical in not stacking accumulating sentences for each killing. "A penalty beyond 21 years would neither help society nor the criminal in moving on after release," he said. "It has not been considered to have any greater deterrent effect if one threatens with 21 or 30 or 50 years in prison in preventing someone from committing a crime."

Providing a fitting companion to this report from USA Today is this new op-ed in the New York Times, which is headlined "Justice? Vengeance? You Need Both." Here is how it begins:

Norway, a nation far removed from the wickedness of the world, is now facing one of its greatest moral challenges: What to do with Anders Behring Breivik, the man who has confessed to massacring 76 people, many of them children.  Norway does not allow for capital punishment, and the longest prison sentence a killer can usually receive there is 21 years.  A country of such otherwise good fortune and peaceful intention is now unprepared — legally and morally — to deal with such a monstrous atrocity.

The United States, unfortunately, is much more familiar with this problem. Americans have spent several recent weeks in a vengeful fury over the acquittal of Casey Anthony, who partied for an entire month while her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, was supposedly missing but might have actually been murdered — by Ms. Anthony.  Many believe that Caylee was denied justice; her mother, meanwhile, has been released from prison and remains hidden in an undisclosed location, largely to protect her from vigilante justice.

The inadequacy of legal justice is one thing, its outright failure is quite another.  But in both cases the attraction of a nonlegal alternative is a powerful one.  Are these vengeful feelings morally appropriate?  The answer is yes — because the actual difference between vengeance and justice is not as great as people think.

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Comments

Thank you USA Today for proving my point.....the U.S.'s punishment system is often best explained by its being based on pure simple vengeance!

Posted by: anon | Jul 28, 2011 11:14:36 AM

@anon
And if our obsession with vengeance keeps me from watching a vicious killer of my loved ones walk free after a few years or getting weekend furloughs then I consider it a good thing.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 28, 2011 11:25:19 AM

Dear Society with remarkably low crime and recidivism rates:

This really horrible thing happened, so please make your criminal justice system more like ours. Because even though we have higher rates of crime and recidivism, we have a sanctimonious sense of moral superiority which demands retribution for this crime.

Sincerely,
Society with high crime and recidivism rates.

Posted by: Texas Lawyer | Jul 28, 2011 12:35:00 PM

Texas Lawyer -

   I am in awe of, and in complete agreement with, your poignant and sarcastic literary mirror which you have just placed in front of the staunch detractors of Norway's criminal justice system. Thank you.

Posted by: Eric Matthews | Jul 28, 2011 2:12:38 PM

Who says the crime rate in Norway is low? The police? Last crime victims survey done in Norway was in 1989. Any other statistics is worthless, because it will be self-serving by the police. Crimes victims are discouraged and expelled from police stations at every stage, by lazy, worthless, government functionaries in the police station.

Who says, the crime rate in the US is elevated? It is not elevated for whites, who have good police protection. I live in a lawyer residential neighborhood. Shop lifting makes the local paper. Try robbing a store here at gunpoint. Police response time is 2 to 3 minutes. A multitude of cars arrives. College educated police emerges blasting. The death penalty is at the scene. The suburbs have a lot of openings in prison. That is why a drug dealer will never have any transaction on the suburb side of the street bordering the suburb and the big city. Crime has been herded to this city. At times, there is a waiting list to get into the city prison for murderers. You get wait listed.

Thank the feminist lawyer for withdrawing police protection of minorities.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 28, 2011 4:22:48 PM

This has become the legal asshole blog.

Posted by: anon | Jul 28, 2011 4:33:22 PM

Texas Lawyer:

In case you haven't noticed, crime rates in homogeneous cultures tend to be low while the opposite is true for non-homogeneous cultures.

Posted by: mjs | Jul 28, 2011 4:58:48 PM

Texas Lawyer: How is the crime rate in the suburban town where you live with the other feminist lawyers, not where you work? I have a ten cent bet it is lower than that of Norway. Move downtown, then speak your sarcasm after you have been a crime victim.

That is the feminist lawyer, a hypocrite with a secret big government agenda. They want the US to be socialist Europe.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 28, 2011 5:57:42 PM

@Texas Lawyer
Or they could make their system more like that of Japan, bringing back the gallows and life in prison. Japan has even LOWER crime rates than Norway.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 28, 2011 7:43:31 PM

Both nations have low crime rates. And both nations also have a low rate of ...?

Correct. Lawyers. The lawyers per population is a good predictor of the crime rate. Lawyers are a under-studied cause of crime.

There are nations with more lawyers per population than the US. In South America. They have achieved Fallujah class rates of crime. The lawyer has turned those countries into Darwinian jungles, where people live like animals, and have to do personal security all day.

You will find the density of lawyers as a major cause of crime in criminology texts how often?

Never.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 28, 2011 8:18:16 PM

Those who support a 14 month sentence for each murder -- and that's what a 21 year sentence amounts to -- do not deserve to be taken seriously in a sober discussion of criminal punishment, and won't be.

They also show sneering contempt for the victims, but that's another story.

Fourteen months. Do they even hear themselves?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 28, 2011 11:34:14 PM

@Bill Otis
I think you mean 14 weeks.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 29, 2011 12:47:19 AM

So, Bill, do those who support a 28, or 42, or 142-month (or -week) consecutive sentence, for each murder, deserve to be taken seriously? At what point does someone's 'retributive ratio' fail or suffice to warrant your regard?

Don't mistake my question - I can respect any frustration or anguish or outright anger regarding 21 years as the (nominal?) maximum for this horrible massacre - but I don't understand why evaluating this sentence in terms of months or weeks per victim adds anything to the discussion of what term of imprisonment should be considered a just punishment, especially in light of differing international sentencing norms.

Perhaps your point is that, from your perspective, only death, or certain life in prison, can possibly be a reasonable sentence here? If so, at least then the grounds, and bounds, of your reasoning are clear.

I value a sober discussion of criminal punishment, but I am wary of those that would automatically exclude certain views on the subject as unserious. Particularly in an international context, where norms naturally differ. In any case, I agree that a 21-year sentence here, if actually true, is at the very least troubling and worthy of serious reevaluation - to the extent permitted by law.

Posted by: SJS | Jul 29, 2011 1:00:33 AM

Bill Otis -

Clarification may be needed here. Defending a criminal justice system with a much lower crime rate against those in this country who wish to proselytize their criminal law beliefs is not the same as defending this projected sentence.

I am angered by this brutal attack against innocent civilians, many of which were children. Truly, I am. However, I choose not to pass judgement on a society which has a criminal justice system that, for whatever reason, works much more effectively than our own American way.

This is not sneering at innocent victims, nor is it supporting any specific sentence.

Posted by: Eric Matthews | Jul 29, 2011 1:08:39 AM

MikeinCT --

Thank you for correcting my error. It is indeed 14 weeks for each murder. Either way, it's unserious sentencing, but 14 weeks is more unserious. It should be a joke, but it isn't.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 29, 2011 8:09:40 AM

SJS and Eric Matthews --

I am not condemning Norwegian society as a whole nor the Norwegian criminal justice or sentencing systems as a whole. I am talking about this specific case only. A sentence of 14 weeks per murder in this instance is unserious; indeed, it's scandalous.

The view that each nation gets to decide its own sentencing is a novel one on this site, where again and again we have seen criticism of the American death penalty as being out of step with -- guess what -- the views of other nations.


This guy is Timothy McVeigh. He plotted for months to kill as many defenseless people as he could, and brought it off without a second thought. Good grief, he walked around that island for AN HOUR AND A HALF hunting down teenagers and children to gun down. Had the police not arrived, he would have finished off every last one.

You don't have to be Norwegian or American or Japanese or Nigerian or anything to understand that something like that is beyond the bounds of civilized life. A person who behaves in a way so completely cold-hearted to his fellow creatures has turned in his membership card in the human race. The guy has the morals of a shark and is incomparably more dangerous, and he has more than earned a shark's fate.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 29, 2011 8:31:40 AM

I have a strong suspicion that this 21-year sentence won't actually come to pass. There is a lot of talk, anger, and public outcry for the normal Norwegian sentence maximum when applied to this mass-murderer. That said, I don't believe that Norway will actually settle for the statutory and normal maximum sentence for him.

For all the discussion about what normally goes on there, my bet is that we see a different and longer sentence handed down. Only time will tell.

Posted by: Eric Matthews | Jul 29, 2011 10:06:56 AM

Justice is not a Gilbert & Sullivan Operetta.
Who did received a punishment that fit the crime?
Gary Ridgway?
Alfredo Astiz?
Lt. William Calley?
General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte?
Luis Posada Carriles?
Eccetera, eccetera, eccetera...

Posted by: Dott. claudio giusti, italia | Jul 29, 2011 4:33:25 PM

The idea that the US justice system is based on vengeance is ridiculous. It's based on a very ancient concept of "an eye for an eye." In other words, the punishment should fit the crime. Ideally, if I steal something I will get a lighter sentence than if I kill someone. Norway's statistics on recidivism are also rather sketchy when you consider that according to their own statistics 1/3 of Norwegian boys will commit a crime; yet a very small percent will re-commit. What constitutes a crime in Norway then has to be considered. Also what crimes are punished by prison terms vs. fines, etc. Apparently Norway has very strict traffic laws and rather low speed limits. Is speeding a crime in Norway? Apparently you can get jail time for speeding there. What percentage of those 1/3 of Norwegian boys was incarcerated for speeding? and can that really be considered a crime as opposed to a traffic violation? It makes a big difference when you consider recidivism, since most traffic violators will learn their lesson with a fine, let alone time in jail. Also, statistics show that Oslo has a much higher crime rate than even New York City, so those statistics are really useless in defining how effective a justice system is. The liberals are proud of painting the US as a crime ridden country compared to places like Norway, yet US crime is in a decline, while Norwegian crime, while very low in comparison, is on the rise. I've also found liberal websites where the US crime rates are intentionally inflated to make the point.

The liberals are using Norway's recidivism rate (a variable statistic dependent on a number of factors that are different from country to country) as an argument for Breivik getting a lenient sentence, when the real issue should be does the penalty fit the crime. The American justice system ain't perfect by any means, and we certainly could learn a lot from Norway, but this issue is not one for which we should in any way be prepared to use Norway as an example. They are not going to rehabilitate Breivik, and any notion that they can will prove to be disastrous. Americans have sadly had to learn that lesson time and again. Statistics require interpretation, and the liberals are interpreting them incorrectly in this case. The very real statistics that apply here are those regarding recidivism for particular criminal types, and Breivik does not fit the typical criminal type. He's somewhat anomalous compared to the typical Norwegian criminal, and that's an understatement. His was not a crime of passion, but one of meticulous planning and execution, with horrific results. His intellect will allow him to fool their rehabilitation agenda to the point where they will regret having released him. Then the real statistics will begin in Norway regarding people like Breivik, sad to say.

Posted by: Brandon | Nov 30, 2011 7:12:50 AM

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