I came across this on CNN this morning, and it reminded me of something my ethics class read and discussed not to long ago. What we looked at was the difference between Deontology and Consequentialism on punishment; generally speaking, the division is between retributive punishment (deontological) and corrective (consequentialist).
There are two main points that are in contention between the two theories:
1. Only the guilty should be punished
2. Punishment should be restricted in severity to the offense committed by the individual.
On some readings of the two theories, retribution says “yes” to both, while corrective theories say “no”. Of course, the rejection of (1) leads to all sorts of thought experiments aimed at consequentialist theories regarding railroading the innocent, and so on.
But here I’m more interested in just pointing out a CNN case of a rejection of (2) in a recent case. Here, if you read the quick article, you’ll see the Wesley Snipes, who has recently been convicted of tax evasion, may be sentenced to three years in jail, at least if government lawyers get their way.
Check out what the article says:
Federal prosecutors last week urged U.S. District Judge William Hodges in Ocala, Florida, to sentence Snipes to the maximum penalty to demonstrate to taxpayers that refusal to pay income taxes carries severe penalties.
Snipes was convicted on three misdemeanor counts of failure to file federal income tax returns.
“This case presents the court with a singular opportunity to deter tax fraud nationwide,” the government said in its sentencing recommendation.
That sounds to me like a clear case of corrective punishment, or a rejection of (2). The government is suggesting that Snipes can be used “as a tool” to effect greater utility — he can serve as a deterrent and help to get other people to pay their taxes.
Kant would not be pleased.