The Theory of the Offender's Forfeited Right

Rosebury, Brian John orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-6154-2685 (2015) The Theory of the Offender's Forfeited Right. Criminal Justice Ethics, 34 (3). pp. 259-283. ISSN 0731-129X

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In justifying punishment we sometimes appeal to the idea that the punished offender has, by his criminal action against others, forfeited his moral right (and therefore his legal right) against hard treatment by the state. The imposition of suffering, or deprivation of liberty, loses its prima facie morally objectionable character, and becomes morally permissible.

Philosophers interrogating the forfeited right theory generally focus on whether the forfeiting of the right constitutes a necessary or a sufficient condition for punishment to be permissible; rarely do they ask whether the idea of a right that can be forfeited is itself morally illuminating. The article examines and criticizes various versions of this theory. It concludes that the forfeited right arguments add little other than rhetorical dignity to the existing repertoire of justifications for punishment. They can be most usefully understood as communicating the thought that the offender cannot reasonably complain about the violation of rights he himself has violated. But the incapacitation of the offender's reasonable complaint does not entail that we are justified in punishing him.

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