Emotions and Criminal Justice

States of emotional arousal—pleasure, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, shame, and guilt—are deeply and intimately implicated in numerous fields of sociolegal inquiry. The field of crime and criminal justice, however, is the most visible and important among these. Emotion captured the imagination of sociolegal scholars as early as Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), and more recently Norbert Elias (1897–1990).

Emotions pervade penal law and the criminal justice system. Claimants, offenders, witnesses, and victims bring their emotions to the court; courts then deal with passionate conflicts ranging from the family sphere to the larger social domain of ethnic conflicts. Court decisions can occasion outrage or anger or promote feelings of vengeance among the public and those involved. Finally, offenses provoke moral disgust while victims and offenders can elicit compassion and ...

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