There is an obvious failure in representative democracy in relation to the punishment of heinous crimes. A small but vocal group believes that rapists and murderers deserve a second chance. Politicians wish to appear moderate, so they pick a middle position between what the majority wants and what these extremists want. The following example illustrates the problem.

In 1976 Phillip Garrido kidnapped a 25-year-old woman in South Lake Tahoe, California. He took her to a Nevada warehouse where he raped her over a 24-hour period. He was later arrested and tried. During his trial he testified that he parked outside girls’ schools and masturbated in his car while observing the children. He was imprisoned for eleven years. After his release he abducted an 11-year-old girl and raised her as a captive in his backyard for eighteen years, during which time she bore two of his children.

A normal sane person would not think eleven years is sufficient punishment for the first crime. In weighing up the respective interests of a convicted rapist and innocent children endangered by his release, a normal sane person would not believe that releasing such a monster into society is appropriate. Yet the minority somehow sufficiently influences legislatures to impose these manifestly inadequate sentences. Thus, experience shows that politicians cannot be trusted to represent the interests of society when it comes to setting penalties for heinous crimes.

The solution is to have sentences for heinous crimes determined by referendum. Each October, the electronic ballot should include a section listing the heinous crimes such as murder, treason, rape, and armed robbery, and all their sub-categories. Voters should then be invited to increase or decrease the current applicable sentences. Those who object to such a plan, saying, “You cannot do that, the average person is too passionate, these things are best left to sociologists to determine”, are arguing that the people do not have the right of self-government, that they have no right to protect their wives and children from rapists and murderers.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove