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'Ongoing Revolution in Punishment Theory' subject of new lecture

January 28, 2009

Paul H. Robinson, one of the world's leading scholars on criminal law, will give the first Edward J. Shoen Leading Scholars Lecture at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. 

Robinson, the Colin S. Diver Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, will speak on "The Ongoing Revolution in Punishment Theory: Doing Justice as Controlling Crime," at noon on Thursday, Feb. 26, in the Great Hall in Armstrong Hall on ASU's Tempe campus.

The lecture is presented by the Arizona State Law Journal, which will publish the address in its next edition.

"Our new lecture series will elevate the standing of the journal and the College of Law by publishing work by prominent legal scholars from the finest law schools," said Ed Gonzalez, a third-year law student and editor-in-chief of the journal.

The new lecture is named in honor of Edward J. "Joe" Shoen, chairman and chief executive officer of AMERCO, the parent company of the U-Haul® system. Shoen, who graduated from the College of Law in 1981, also earned a master's degree in business administration from Harvard Business School and is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Shoen, his wife, Sylvia, and five children all live in Phoenix.

"It is an honor to be associated with the Leading Scholars Lecture," Shoen said. "I am reminded once more of my obligation to step up, take a hard look and try to understand. I have always tried to work hard and not learn any tricks. Good scholarship stresses personally doing the research and the field work."

"The new Shoen Leading Scholars Lecture series will allow the College of Law to bring to campus some of the leading minds in the legal academy to present major new works and then set those scholars in dialogue with others," said Paul Schiff Berman. Dean of the College of Law. "This is the kind of high-level, multifaceted conversation that law journals and law schools should be fostering, and I am therefore very pleased to begin this new series."

Robinson said he chose the topic because of the fascinating change in how we see criminal law.

Most states base their criminal statutes on a model penal code promulgated by the American Law Institute in 1962, a model code that hadn't changed for 47 years. But last year, the Institute substantially amended the portion of the code that sets out the purposes of punishment.

"This is important because it tells judges how they should interpret the codes, what they should take into account," Robinson said. "This change is an illustration of how punishment theory in the United States is in the midst of a significant revolution."

Robinson said that, as social scientists learned more about how criminal laws affect people's behaviors, they developed information about how rules work and how they don't work.

In the 1950s, he said, clinical psychology was becoming a real science, and researchers were starting to understand the mental side of criminal conduct.

"As we have made scientific advances, our views changed," Robinson said. "More than 50 years ago, the system was about punishment and doing justice. In the '60s and '70s, we shifted away from punishment for punishment's sake and looked at criminal law as a crime-control device.

"Now, ironically, we have come full circle. We have found that the power of the criminal law to influence behavior is based on how it is perceived as a moral authority. When you undermine the system's reputation as a moral authority, it has crime-control costs."

Robinson said that drafters of last year's change to the model code in some ways were going back to the beginning.

"They stated that the first operating principal must be to do justice, no more, no less. Within those limits, if you're able to optimize deterrence, that's fine, but you can never do it in ways that are inconsistent with deserved punishment."

Robinson said this change has not yet filtered into the court system.

"Judges are still doing what they were doing 10 years ago," he said. "Policymakers and academics are moving in that direction, but it will take several decades before everyday practice reflects that.

Judy Nichols,
(480) 727-7895
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law