Buffalo Public Interest Law Journal

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When someone commits a crime with no exculpatory defenses,he is blameworthy and deserves to be punished. Nevertheless, assuming the criminal were to satisfy some conditions, he could become forgivable. In this Essay I defend a restorative theory of what it means to forgive a criminal and when the forgiveness of a criminal would be warranted. My defense is unique in that I ultimately derive my theory offorgiveness from a novel theory of when criminals deserve to be punished. My restorative theory of forgiveness yields at least two general insights that are generally not appreciated in the prior literature on forgiveness. First, I argue that, in the standard case, fully forgiving a criminal would be warranted only if the criminal has undertaken all the punishment he deserves. Once we are warranted in fully forgiving a criminal, the criminal would no longer deserve any further punishment. So any additional punishment of a criminal who has become fully forgivable would be unjustified. Second, my restorative theory offorgiveness yields a precise distinction between two senses in which a criminal might be unforgivable: a contingent sense and a necessary sense. As a consequence of these insights, this Essay not only advances the important academic literature on forgiveness, but also yields new practical implications for how to respond to criminals.