This article discusses the significance of Paul Robinson’s and John Darley’s book, Justice, Liability, and Blame: Community Views and the Criminal Law (“Justice”), and why the book is an excellent springboard for further research comparing community standards and legal codes. However, contrary to Justice’s conclusions, this article particularly emphasizes the perils of incorporating public opinion into the law based upon three major sources: (1) this article's own study of national and New Jersey demographic and political affiliation data, (2) the results presented in Justice, and (3) the results of public opinion research.
This article suggests that public opinion research may fail to measure accurately the public's fundamental values or "moral intuitions." Rather, the research may be far more successful in reflecting individuals' erroneous knowledge and distorted attitudes, which can range enormously depending on demographics and personal experiences. This article considers whether the goal of incorporating community standards into the law at the level Justice recommends can be achieved with any accuracy under even the most ideal empirical circumstances. This article also questions whether the attempt is worth the effort in light of the potential measurement problems. Lastly, this article points to research showing that public opinion already has a marked effect on police, courts, legislatures, and politicians. It seems the public can be quite successful in achieving the goal Justice has proposed for it, at least in the areas and on the levels the public believes significant. Given the public's influence, it may be a worthy effort to educate the public more about how the law actually operates in order to correct the distorted impressions thepublic currently holds. Therefore, whatever impact individuals do have can better reflect a reasoned, educated, judgment rather than personal experience.
Denno, Deborah W.
"The Perils of Public Opinion,"
Hofstra Law Review: Vol. 28
, Article 6.
Available at: http://scholarlycommons.law.hofstra.edu/hlr/vol28/iss3/6