The Code of Hammurabi
Our day-to-day activities are guided by a set of laws and rules defined by our government. We follow these rules in order to preserve peace and order in our society. We also follow these rules because we try to avoid the corresponding punishments for breaking them. But if we look back to the time of Hammurabi, in his reign over ancient Babylon, it may seem that these punishments are considerably light and easy. So if we bring Hammurabi to the present, he will surely have a lot to say about the punishments for certain crimes that we have today.
Drunk driving, or driving under the influence (DUI), is one of the most common crimes committed nowadays. It is described as driving while intoxicated, wherein the blood alcohol concentration of the perpetrator exceeds the limit defined by law (About.com, 2007). Usually, the penalty for drunk driving is the revocation of license and fines, but it also changes depending on the damage caused by driver. An offender may be dealt with jail time, larger fines and other serious penalties if the incident resulted to the injury or death of others, or has damaged other people’s properties. If we would base the penalty to Hammurabi’s code, then the punishments would surely be more severe. If the incident resulted to the death or the injury of other people, then the offender will be punished with death or the loss of a limb. If it would be the destruction of other people’s properties, he would have to replace the damaged property with another one, or pay the appropriate price. Failure to do so would again result to his death.
Shoplifting is one of the most common property crimes in the country and in other parts of the world. It is defined as the theft of goods from a retail establishment by a patron, regardless of the size or price of the good (Kidshealth.org, 2007). The usual penalties for shoplifting include paying of fines, or paying more than the amount of the stolen merchandise (RetailWeek, 2007). There is no jail time especially for first offenders and for minor offenses. Again, if we would base the penalty on the Code of Hammurabi, then the penalty will be more severe. Since shoplifting is a form of theft, Hammurabi demands that the offender pay thirtyfold to the owner of the merchandise. If the offender is unwilling or unable to pay, then he shall be put to death.
Another crime with a comparatively lighter penalty today than that of Hammurabi’s time is the statutory rape. Statutory rape is defined as the consensual sexual relations that occur when one participant is below legal age of 18 (Sexlaws.org, 2007). The penalties for this crime range from fines to imprisonment, depending on the degree of the crime committed. But if we base the penalty for this crime to Hammurabi’s code, then it would be greatly severe. Hammurabi asserts that “if any one steal the minor son of another, he shall be put to death” (King, 2008). Statutory rape is a form of “stealing” a minor; so consequently, offenders shall be put to death.
Hammurabi’s code was based on the principle “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” which basically promotes the use of crime to punish another crime. For me, I think the modern criminal justice system is fairer in its punishments for the offenders. It’s because we still value their rights as human beings regardless of the weight of their crimes. Hammurabi may have brought fear in the hearts of criminals in his time, but I think it wasn’t effective in teaching people to follow the rules. People tend to follow rules not because they wanted to preserve peace and order, but because they fear for their lives. Instead of giving them freedom and a chance for a better life, Hammurabi’s code has restricted them to a life of fear and obedience. Our modern system is better because we are encouraged to follow rules to promote peace and order, and not out of fear. It also gives the offenders a chance to redeem themselves and make up for the crimes they have committed.
About.com. (2007). Penalties for Driving Drunk. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/drive/a/aa082797.htm
Kidshealth.org. (2007). Shoplifting. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from http://kidshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/good_friends/shoplifting.html
King, L. W. (2008). Hammurabi’s Code of Laws Retrieved July 15, 2009, from http://eawc.evansville.edu/anthology/hammurabi.htm
RetailWeek. (2007). Government reveals plans to soften shoplifting penalties. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from http://www.retail-week.com/government-reveals-plans-to-soften-shoplifting-penalties/38649.article
Sexlaws.org. (2007). What Is Statutory Rape? Retrieved July 15, 2009, from http://www.sexlaws.org/what_is_statutory_rape