The Rationale of Reward

Book I

Of Rewards in General

Chapter XIV


Among informers, criminals who denounce their accomplices have been distinguished from others, and the offer of pardon or rewards to induce them thus to act, has been condemned as altogether improper. It must be acknowledged, that so long as there is any other means of obtaining the conviction of a criminal without thus rewarding an accomplice, this method is bad; the impunity necessarily accompanying it is an evil. But if there be no other means, this method is good: since the impunity of a single criminal is less evil than the impunity of many.

In relation, however, to weighty and serious crimes, no such rewards can with propriety be appointed by a general law. A general law offering pardon and reward to the criminal who informed amongst his accomplices, would be an invitation to the commission of all sorts of crimes: it would be as though the legislator had said, ``Among a multitude of criminals, the most wicked shall not only be unpunished but rewarded.'' A man shall lay plans for the commission of a crime---shall engage accomplices with the intention of betraying them: to the natural profits of the crime, such a law would add the reward bestowed upon him as an informer. It is what has often happened under English law. It is one of the fruits of the maxim which prohibits the examination of suspected persons respecting facts which may tend to criminate themselves. It is, however, criminals who can always furnish, and who of often can alone furnish, the light necessary for the guidance of justice. But the examination of suspected persons being forbidden as a means of obtaining intelligence, there remains only the method of reward.

But when the reward, instead of being bestowed in virtue of a general law, is left to the discretion of the judge, and offered only when necessary, this inconvenience does not exist. Advantageous crimes can no longer be committed with security. Recourse being had to this costly method only when all other methods fail, there will always be a longer or shorter interval, during which every criminal will feel himself exposed to the punishment denounced against his crimes. The employment of reward in this manner having become usual, will exercise upon the security of criminals the effect of a general law: it might even be prescribed by such a law. This method would then possess all the advantages of an unconditional law, without its inconveniences.

Beccaria has condemned, without exception, every reward offered to accomplices. As the foundation of his opinion, he produces only a confused sentiment of disapprobation attached to the words ``treason and faithlessness''.

Voluntary conventions among men are generally useful to society. It would be in most cases productive of evil, were they not considered binding. Infamy has therefore become constantly attached to the terms treason and faithlessness. The acts, however to which these terms are applied, are only pernicious in as far as the contracts of which they are violations are at least innocent. To render the security of society (which crimes, were they to remain unpunished, would destroy) subordinate to the accomplishment of all manner of engagements, would be to render the end subordinate to the means. What would become of society, were it once established as a principle, that the commission of a crime became a duty if once it had been promised? That promises ought to be performed, is a maxim which, without a limitation excepting those the performance of which would be pernicious to society, might to have place neither in laws nor in morals. It is doubtful which would be most injurious---the non-performance of every promise, or the performance of all. Far from being a greater evil than that to which it is opposed, it would be difficult to show that the non-performance of criminal engagements is productive of any evil. From the performance of such an engagement, an unfavourable judgment only can be formed of the character of the party: how can a a similar judgment be formed from its violation? Because he has repented of having committed or been willing to commit an action injurious to society, and which he knew to be so, does it follow that he will fail to perform actions which he knows to be innocent and useful?

From the violation of engagements among criminals, what evil can be apprehended?---That unanimity shall be wanting among them?---that their enterprises shall be unsuccessful?---that their associations shall be dissolved? It is proverbially said, ``there is honour among thieves''. The honour which cements their conspiracies is the pest of society. Why should we not seek inspire them with the highest degree of distrust toward each other?---why should we not arm them against each other, and make them fear lest they should find an informer in every accomplice? Wherefore should we not seek to fill them with a desire to inform against and mutually to destroy each other; so that each one, uneasy and trembling in the midst of his fellows, should fear his companions as much as his judges, nor be able to hope for security but in the renunciation of his crimes. This is exactly what the consideration of the public welfare would lead us to wish; and if we are to be turned aside from the care of this object by regard to the fidelity of thieves and murderers to their engagements, for a still stronger reason, from humanity, ought we to abstain from punishing their crimes.

Beccaria, upon just ground, condemns the sovereigns and judges, who after having enticed an offender to become an informer, afterwards violate their promise, and render it illusory. In this case we need not fear to give vent to the feelings of horror and indignation which so mischievous a proceeding inspires. It is mischievous in the highest possible degree, It destroys all future confidence in similar offers, and renders powerless this most necessary instrument. It cements, instead of weakening, the union of criminals among themselves, and causes government itself to appear as the guardian of their society, by adding mockery to the rigour of the law, by punishing the individual who has confided in its promises.

``But'', says Beccaria, ``society authorizes treason, detested even by criminals among the themselves.'' We have already seen what is to be understood by this treason. It is natural to criminals to detest it---it is their ruin: it ought to be approved by honest men--it is their safeguard. It will introduce crimes of cowardice and baseness. No: it will introduce acts of prudence, of penitence, and of public utility it will operate as an antidote to all crimes. These pretended crimes of cowardice are more injurious to a nation than the crimes of courage. The truth is exactly the reverse: which produce most alarm in society, privately stealing and swindling on the one side or highway robbery and murder on the other? The tribunal which employs this expedient, discovers its uncertainty. It discovers that it can know nothing without having learnt it. By what means can a judge attain to certainty without witnesses? In what country is it customary for criminals to make the judges the confidants of their misdeeds and their plans? The law exhibits its feebleness, in imploring the assistance even of him who has broken it. The law seeks the offender who flies from it: if the means employed for his discovery are effectual, it only exhibits its wisdom.

But if rewards are to be bestowed upon criminals who denounce their accomplices Beccaria desires that it may be in virtue of `` a general law, which should promise impunity to every accomplice who discovers a crime, rather than by a particular declaration in each particular case.'' The reason he assigns is, that ``such a law would prevent the combination of malefactors, by inspiring each of them with the fear of exposing himself alone, to danger, and that it would not serve to give that boldness to the wicked, who see that there are some cases in which their services are required.'' But we have already observed, that the particular declaration equally serves to prevent this combination, and that it is the general law which tends to give boldness to the wicked, and even creates the belief that justice cannot be executed without them.

``A law of this nature'', adds Beccaria, ``ought to join to impunity the banishment of the informer.'' A condition of this nature could only serve to render the law inefficacious in a variety of cases, and also contains a contradiction in terms. A law joining banishment to impunity! Is not banishment a punishment?{Note}

[RR, Book I, Chapter XIII] [RR, Book I, Chapter XV]