What Is General Deterrence? - Definition, Theory & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of General…
  • 0:39 Theory & Examples
  • 2:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn what constitutes general deterrence and examine the theory behind this legal term. Analyze different examples so you can gain insight on why some lawmakers use deterrence methods.

Definition of General Deterrence

Have you ever done something to send someone a message or to give someone a hint without using words? For instance, you might offer someone a piece of gum after a particularly garlicky meal as a means to freshen the person's breath. General deterrence is a legal theory, which also works to send a message to the general public about crime.

General deterrence means that the law seeks to deter the public from engaging in certain types of conduct. To deter means to discourage. In the criminal justice system, general deterrence seeks to stop the public from entering into illegal activities.

Theory and Examples

General deterrence in criminal justice seeks to achieve the enforcement of criminal laws by intimidating others into abiding by the law. In other words, people fear breaking the law because they fear the consequences that come with breaking the law. General deterrence tries to send a message to the public by making the public fearful of the consequences of committing a crime, and therefore, less likely to commit a crime.

Mandatory license revocation for repeat driving-while-intoxicated offenses is one example of general deterrence. In mandatory license revocation scenarios, the judge has no discretion and must revoke, or take away, the offender's license after a certain number of times the offender breaks the law. The purpose of this is to deter the public from engaging in the crime of driving while intoxicated.

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