Saturday, February 2, 2013

Benjamin Franklin: ‘Laws too gentle are seldom obeyed; too severe, seldom executed!’

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Benjamin Franklin: 'Laws too gentle are seldom obeyed; too severe, seldom executed!'
Epigraph: "And as for the man who steals and the woman who steals, cut off their hands in retribution of their offence as an exemplary punishment from Allah. And Allah is Mighty, Wise." (Al Quran 5:39)
The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, located in the rotunda of The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, features a colossal, 20 feet tall, statue of seated Benjamin Franklin
Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD
Harvard Law School Library's website, Words of Justice, says about Benjamin Franklin's quote, which makes the title of my article:
In addition to being a statesman/diplomat, inventor/scientist and founding father, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was also a publisher. This quotation is one of many proverbs in his publication Poor Richards Almanac, issued annually from 1732 to 1758. This best-selling pamphlet in colonial America also contained weather, poems, puzzles, astrological/astronomical information and other items that made it a popular publication with the general public. The quotation, published in the 1756 Almanac, suggests the need for proportionality in sentencing and warns against extremes of punishment in society's laws. It advises that penalties must be severe enough to deter people from the censured behavior, but not so severe that people are reluctant to enforce them. The quote is very similar to a statement by Lord Keeper Finch in 1742 in which he stated "In making of laws, it will import us to consider, that too many laws are a snare, too few are a weakness in the government; too gentle are seldom obeyed, too severe are as seldom executed."
Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706  – April 17, 1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass 'armonica'.[1] He facilitated many civic organizations, including a fire department and a university.
Towards the end of his life, he freed his slaves and became one of the most prominent abolitionists.
His statement, 'Laws too gentle are seldom obeyed; too severe, seldom executed!' is very profound and no wonder Harvard Law School Library's website, chose it among a few dozen quotes in  Words of Justice.  It is self evident that if punishment of speeding, for example, was only a dollar and associated police harassment of the minority population, was not added unofficial punishment, everyone will be speeding, in USA.  My evidence?  Almost everyone does go beyond the speed limit a little, with the expectation of some grace zone, above the officially posted speed limit.
To illustrate the other spectrum of Franklin's quote, we observe that no one has appetite, in this day and age, for stoning anyone to death, which is prescribed as a punishment for several crimes, in the Bible, but not in the Quran.  For a list of some of the crimes for which stoning is prescribed, see an article: Violence in the Bible and Jihad in the Quran.
Benjamin Franklin's quote is profound in both of its clauses.
Let us now move to the issue of deterrence of crime by fear of punishment.  The idea of deterrence is certainly built in, 'Laws too gentle are seldom obeyed.'
Many of us in the West have seen the deterrent effect of financial penalties and high interest rates, for failing to pay federal taxes in time.  On several occasions, I have paid, almost 10% of the money due, as fines, to the Government, for delay of as little as a day, in paying withheld taxes of my employees.  It has certainly created respect and awe of Law in my mind and has shaped my practice of making it a priority to pay in time.
Saudi Arabia has drawn considerable criticism for cutting of hands of thieves in recent decades.   But before we study Saudi Arabia, let us focus on Three Strikes Laws.  These laws in principle approve of the idea of deterrence, otherwise a scenario can be constructed, where by, life imprisonment will seem very harsh for three petty thefts, for example.
Three Strikes Laws are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States which mandates state courts to impose harsher sentence on persons convicted of three or more serious criminal offenses. In most jurisdictions, only crimes at the felony level qualify as serious offenses. Depending on the seriousness of the felony, the sentence can range from a minimum of 25 years to a maximum of life imprisonment (typically the defendant is given the possibility of parole with a life sentence). Twenty-four states have some form of habitual offender law.
The name comes from baseball, where a batter is permitted two strikes before striking out on the third.
The three strikes law significantly increases the prison sentences of persons convicted of a felony who have been previously convicted of two or more violent crimes or serious felonies, and limits the ability of these offenders to receive a punishment other than a life sentence. Violent and serious felonies are specifically listed in state laws. Violent offenses include murder, robbery of a residence in which a deadly or dangerous weapon is used, rape and other sex offenses; serious offenses include the same offenses defined as violent offenses, but also include other crimes such as burglary of a residence and assault with intent to commit a robbery or murder.
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'One learned man is harder on the devil than a thousand ignorant worshipers': Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

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