, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 185-216
Date: 19 Aug 2012

Was Ellen Wronged?

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Abstract

Imagine a citizen (call her Ellen) engages in conduct the state says is a crime, for example, money laundering. Imagine too that the state of which Ellen is a citizen has decided to make money laundering a crime. Does the state wrong Ellen when it punishes her for money laundering? It depends on what you think about the authority of the criminal law. Most criminal law scholars would probably say that the criminal law as such has no authority. Whatever authority is has depends on how well it adheres to the demands of morality inasmuch as morality is the only authority we have. Thus if morality says that money laundering should not be a crime then the state wrongs Ellen when it punishes her. But if the criminal law as such does have authority, and if in the exercise of its authority the state has decided to make money laundering a crime, then the state does Ellen no wrong when it punishes her.