I've been thinking a bit about a variable penal code that would align punishment with the values held by those involved in a particular crime. What I am about to describe only applies to those crimes where individuals are both the victim and the perpetrators. It does not apply to any crimes that involve a corporation, the state, or any establishment.
How often have you felt that a sentence handed down to a criminal following a conviction was either too lenient or too harsh? How often have we heard people argue about the morality of the death penalty? This proposed penal code will help mitigate the intensity of the debates that spring from such questions.
First, assume the existing penal code will remain in effect for for all crimes that are not committed by an individual upon another individual. Now, with that assumption in mind, here is how the proposed penal code would work. At the age of 18 (or whatever the legal adult age may be), an individual will be allowed to specify the punishments (number of years in prison, number of hours of community service, death penalty, etc) for all the different individual against individual crimes. These would include crimes such as grand theft, petty theft, aggravated assualt, different degrees of homicide, etc. For those crimes that they did not speficy their own punishment, the current penal code would act as a default.
Now, we basically have assigned what we feel should be just punishments for various crimes against individuals committed by other individuals. We should very much set these crimes in accordance with our own moral standards. When a crime is committed by Individual A against Individual B, and Individual A is convicted of that crime, then the customized penal code would be looked up for both parties involved. The harsher of the two penalties will be imposed upon the convicted. If more parties are involved, the harshest of all penalties will be imposed.
What this does, in effect, is force everyone to live up to their own standards. In our current system, if a car thief has his car stolen by another car thief, the convicted car thief in this particular case would face what the state felt was the appropriate punishment for car theft. However, in the world of those involved, car thievery is not so big a deal. Why must the current system force a sense of hypocrisy into this incident? In this proposed system, the car thieves would have likely set a fairly light sentence (or none at all) for grand theft auto. However, if you know that you would never steal a car, you would likely set a penalty based on how severe you thought the crime was. Being unsympathetic to criminals, I would simply assign a life sentence to grand theft auto. But, I would definitely not assign a life sentence to vehicular manslaughter. It is conceivable that I might be tired at night one day and run a red light due to my weary state, which ultimately causes someone's death.
If I happen to have caused the death of someone who shares my personal ideals, then I would receive exactly what we felt I deserved. If that person did not feel that vehicular manslaughter was that horrible, then I would get what I deserved, and more than what the victim thought I deserved. And, finally, if the victim felt that vehicular manslaughter was worthy of a death sentence, then I would be punished according to what the victim felt I deserved. Even if it was too harsh a sentence in my own view, who is to say that it truly was the case?
Our justice system would remain unchanged, except that the judge would not issue a sentence based on what he felt. The sentence would be based on what the participants of the incident felt about the particular crime in question. Of course, the custom penalty should be kept a secret until the day of sentencing. This would allow the jury to act in an unbiased manner. This is something that our current system does not handle well. A particular juror might feel that the death penalty is immoral, and that juror could possible sway away from his/her duty, and ultimately, hang a jury in a death penalty case.
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but, in a modernized sense. I know that many of the ideas above might not be perfectly clear. It would take some time to flesh out the details. But, what's been said could serve as a good starting point for discussion. What are your feelings on such a penal code? Would this constitute fairness?
Someone mentioned that your views on life would change over time. So, as an afterthought, I should mention that your penal code selection is not set in stone. You would be allowed to update it as you pleased.