Michael Rich publishes op-ed in The New York Times
Elon Law Professor Michael Rich examines “the perfect prevention of crime” in an August 7 New York Times op-ed.
In the op-ed, Rich explores several new technologies that can prevent individuals from committing crimes like “in-vehicle technology that automatically checks a driver’s blood-alcohol level and, if that level is above the legal limit, prevents the car from starting,” as well as speculative technologies, including pharmaceuticals that could reduce thoughts correlated with crimes, suggesting the possibility of widespread crime prevention in the future.
“Such technologies force us to reconcile two important interests,” Rich writes. “On one hand is society’s desire for safety and security. On the other hand is the individual’s right to act freely.”
Rich examines the distinction between thoughts and actions in traditional criminal law as a guideline for balancing these interests.
“For most familiar crimes (murder, robbery, rape, arson), the law requires that the actor have some guilty state of mind, whether it is intent, recklessness or negligence,” Rich writes. “But there is a category of crimes that are forbidden regardless of the actor’s state of mind: so-called strict-liability offenses. One example is the sale of tainted drugs. Another is drunken driving. In such cases, using technology to prevent the crime entirely would not unduly burden individual freedom; it would simply be effective enforcement of the statute.”
Rich argues that technologies designed to prevent crimes by influencing the thoughts of individuals would jeopardize the individual’s right to act freely.
“Perfect prevention is a politically attractive approach to crime prevention, and for strict-liability crimes it is permissible and may be good policy if implemented properly,” Rich writes. “But for most offenses, the threat to individual freedom is too great to justify this approach. This is not because people have a right to commit crimes; they do not. Rather, perfect prevention threatens our right to be free in our thoughts, even when those thoughts turn to crime.”
Rich’s extended article on this subject, “Should We Make Crime Impossible?” is forthcoming in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.