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What is the Criminal Law for?

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The traditional distinction between retributive and distributive justice misconstrues the place of the criminal law in modern regulatory states. In the context of the regulatory state, the criminal law is a coercive rule-enforcing institution – regardless of whether it also serves the ends of retributive justice. As a rule-enforcing institution, the criminal law is deeply implicated in stabilizing the institutions and legal rules by means of which a state creates and allocates social advantage. As a coercive institution, the criminal law requires justification as an instance of legitimate state authority. The operation of criminal justice institutions should therefore not be evaluated by reference to a distinct set of criteria, but should be evaluated by the same criteria that apply to coercive public institutions generally.

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Correspondence to Vincent Chiao.

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Chiao, V. What is the Criminal Law for?. Law and Philos 35, 137–163 (2016).

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